Eric Holthaus on Imagination: “Our Brains are Constantly Being Encouraged to Give Up”

It was in an article about Eric that I first came across the term ‘pre-traumatic stress disorder’, a topic we’ll explore more in a future podcast. How does that impact the imagination, I wondered? So, when I chatted to Eric, I started by asking him to tell us a bit about that journey he went on, of injecting very real human emotion into a field that usually limits itself to facts, figures and data.

Douglas Rushkoff: “We’ve Disabled the Cognitive and Collaborative Skills Needed to Address Climate Change”

How does our relationship with digital technologies alter our relationship with the future, with the present, and with our imaginations?  It’s a question we’ve reflected on in various podcasts and interviews in this series. One of the books that most influenced me on this was Douglas Rushkoff’s ‘Present Shock’. 


One of the reasons I think our imaginations are in such a poor state in 2018 is that we spend so much time looking down.  Look around you. On the bus, on the train, in the street. Our eyes are locked down to our screens, our attention elsewhere.  So I want to share with me something that I find really helps.

On Imagination, Attention and Resisting “Electronic Enchantments”

On the other end, from the point of view of the receiver or the consumer, we are so glutted, so saturated with products, stimuli, you know, just information, that it’s very hard for people to receive, and respond to genuine acts of imagination. The faculty of attention and focus, that’s all under threat. Anyone who teaches at any level will testify to this too. It’s very hard to get anyone to calm down and focus on anything for more than the length of a soundbite.

Alex Schlegel on Imagination, the Brain and ‘the Mental Workspace’

What happens in the brain when we’re being imaginative?  Neuroscientists are moving away from the idea of what’s called ‘localisationism’ (the idea that each capacity of the brain is linked to a particular ‘area’ of the brain) towards the idea that what’s more important is to identify the networks that fire in order to enable particular activities or insights.  

How Poverty Impacts our Brain, Health and Imagination

[Jamies’] paper suggested that growing up in poverty can result in decrements in attentional processes, working memory, and a measurably smaller hippocampus.  In an exploration as to the reasons why, as a culture, we might be less able to constructively imagine the future, Jamie felt like an important person to talk to.

How a Community’s Imagination Reshaped a Museum

The programmes that we deliver in the museum, whether they be from schools to life-long learning, to graduate start-up businesses to whatever, how do those empower the makers of the future?  And we understand how making makes us feel better.  This is a building that was run in the early 18th century off one power source and produced 300 million yards of silk thread, a day, off a water source.  And now it’s run off a power station.  So it’s to open up that conversation about what is the future of that?

On Imagination and Places of Possibility

Imagination to me is about expanding our range of values and saying, “What really matters? Why does it matter? What kind of people can we be? And how can we start to translate that into the spaces that we live in, and not just keep it in the private sphere, which is about beliefs or our hobbies, or our campaigns?”

Strengthening our Ecological Imagination

When we temporarily quiet the cognitive activity of the mind to allow these imaginative functions to be activated, it’s easier to recognize the living connections that exist between ourselves and all other forms of life. I call this felt-sense of connection our ‘ecological imagination,’ because it has the capacity to liberate distorted beliefs about our control over nature and our separation from the natural world.