Imagination is the Moral Faculty

My mother told me that a long time ago. Imagine–you will have to, because there can never be any scientifically valid proof of it–that other people are like you. They have insides.  Like you, they have eyes…hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions…. fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer… If you prick them, do they not bleed? if you tickle them, do they not laugh? if you poison them, do they not die? and so on.

Evolutionarily, imagination emerged among predators teaching their young to hunt, I think.  Pretend, says the mother sabre-toothed tiger to her cubs, that this branch, or bunch of leaves, or my tail is your prey.  Chase it.  Seize it.  Subdue it. At the same time, they are being trained to distinguish between play and reality, because if they get too carried away imagining mama’s tail to be prey and actually hurt her, she will swat them halfway into the Paleolithic. An inelegant beginning for such a lofty attribute.

Obviously, imagination is conducive to both individual and species survival.  If I were that prey animal, which way would I be headed right now?  Oh yeah, toward the water hole! The whole point of imagination is the ability to reason contrary to or in the absence of fact. Let’s stop sneering at coulda, woulda, shoulda.  They are what make us competent animals. 

Once we have learned the proper use of imagination, we can practice its use through stories and art, and hone it until it leads us to the Great Commandment.  Imagine that your neighbor is like you–as yourself–and then love.

Jane Grey

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