And so the question of “what if London were to become a National Park City?” was born. What a great question. But not content to have just come up with a great “what if?” question, he has spent the last 4 years trying to make it happen. W
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.
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’.
If you don’t value, and you don’t prioritise, having some quiet moments, some pauses in the stream of information that floods into our brains, it diminishes the chances for a lot of creative thought, for making connections between otherwise non-clearly linked events and ideas.
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.
We can’t all be Noam Chomsky or Ayn Rand or Wendell Berry or Bingo Pajama, but that doesn’t mean each and every one of us can’t get the hint. We need a new story. Maybe even a new myth. We need to rediscover imagination. Imagination that enables us to reckon our whereabouts in a world that is heating up and speeding up.
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.
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.
[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.
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?
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?”
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.