September 24, 2020

Without imagination we do not get ahead | Trends

Without imagination we do not get ahead | Trends

In view of the time it takes and the developments achieved, evolution has maintained an effective strategy, based on insistence and diversity, given the uncertainty of the environment. Generate incessantly, therefore, different forms, so that there is always a timely response to the whim of the environment, while extinguishing those inadequate for the circumstances of that moment.

It has worked billions of years, but recently in evolution another survival strategy has appeared. And it is that life acquires the capacity not only to burst and expand, as fireworks, in countless different ways for some of them to ignite, but to imagine possible scenarios. From then on, life has the power to suppose that the uncertain world will manifest itself in a certain way and, then, begin to act from that possible one.

We call this visionary, visionary life intelligent life. Naturally it has not been created overnight, but it has been amassed since the first chordates, for millions of years, until reaching the dense and intricate mass of the human brain.

And in that neural mass lies the foundation of an effective resistance of life: memory. Resist to persist. That what happens because of the uncertainty of the environment leaves an imprint, and does not disappear once it has happened. In this way, the ability to recognize the world will be reached and, faced with a new and uncertain event, it will be possible to say I already saw it, because another previous one that resembles the new one is registered in the memory. So the more abstract the memory, the more variety of singular events can fit into the pattern that stores the memory and respond accordingly, that is, by experience.

But memory is not just a file of records, but a box of combinable pieces. So what retains memory can be combined and recombined unlimitedly, like pieces of Lego. Memory serves not only to recognize, but to recreate. It is based on imagination. The more pieces (experience), and more open (intelligence), that is, with more possibilities of combination, more possible compositions (imagination) can be made.

And this is the great evolutionary potential that has been achieved in us. Imagine from what we have, recombining it, future scenarios. They are not predictions, but forecasts. They are virtual, but motivating. They move to act in that direction, but without ceasing to continually rectify what was planned. Hence, the uncertainty no longer lies only in what may come from the environment (future), but in which it can cause conflict by the clash of our pretensions and the uncontrollable, that which is beyond our foresight. But this active attitude, so dynamic, dialectical, is like putting the helm to the ship.

It is true that imagine is risky, not because you are afraid to err, but because it means daring to dismantle what has made up the memory of what was lived

We need that rudder to get out of the present anxiety. Faced with the confusion generated by technological acceleration, insecurity to feel that the references until now stable and consolidated are dislodged because of such acceleration, the reaction is to turn to its maximum power the engine of imagination, to take us out of the vertiginous whirlwind in which we have entered.

It is true that imagining is risky, not because you are afraid to err, because it is clear that imagining possible scenarios is to predict, not predict, what is left for the prophets, but because it means daring to dismantle what the memory of what has been lived has been composed (with the work that has cost!) and recombining their pieces in another way, for another scenario. This need to dismantle is what we resist, and that is why we tend, to project future scenarios, to maintain the models we already have. Relieves tension, but leads to loss, because we deny that the world is on another path.

I believe that we should take advantage at this moment of capital the capacity that evolution has given us to imagine possible scenarios, contrast them without ceasing and also with enough flexibility to correct them as the virtual scenario is taking on a real look.

Antonio Rodríguez de las Heras is a professor Carlos III University of Madrid


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