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Useful And Fantastic: Applied Imagination - 8

"When imagination becomes inured to blockbusters, explicit gore, constant novelties, explosions of information, or the ear becomes used to decibels that verge on damage to the eardrums, then softer music, finer emotions and feelings such as sentiment, gentleness, subtlety, appear blanched and insipid,'' says Val Yule.

Limens For Imagination

A limen is the point at which a stimulus becomes perceptible or is of sufficient intensity to produce an effect. Individuals vary constitutionaly and temperamentaly in their thresholds for different stimuli, as in their visual and auditory perception and responses to pain. Experience is a strong factor in determining limens. As we become accustomed to a stimulus, the limen rises, so that stronger intensities are required to achieve the same result. Drugs are a well-known example.

‘A little of what you fancy does you good’ but too much of what you fancy gives little room for other tastes. Nothing too much’ was essential to the Greek Golden Mean.

When imagination becomes inured to blockbusters, explicit gore, constant novelties, explosions of information, or the ear becomes used to decibels that verge on damage to the eardrums, then softer music, finer emotions and feelings such as sentiment, gentleness, subtlety, appear blanched and insipid. This can happen on a socio-cultural level too.

With raising of these limens, much that was formerly regarded as positive and delightful virtues appear and are believed to be neutral and dull. The Victorian era of immense curiosity and imagination was intensely feminine as well as masculine, even though women themselves were regarded as naturally inferior to men. In our time, feminine qualities of softness, quietness and the beautiful have become regarded as more insignificant and unattractive compared to the stronger, louder impact of masculine dynamism, aggression, speed and assertiveness. This is partly because the electronic screen reflects an inadequate image of reality and teaches us that it is real.

A third-rate drama with no conflict would be boring, and hence comes the common but incorrect deduction that in real life a family with no conflict would be also be dull. Despite all the concentration of funding and effort on whether television violence may harm children, (and ignoring the findings about adults and violence as they grow up) reserchers should explore other effects of television on how adults distinguish between reality and fantasy, and what they may be acting out in their own lives. The wars-by-button-pressing practised in computer games can be transferred to real life, and the hi-tech warriors in the sky or directing from afar may be unable to tell the difference – and the difference is human suffering. War makes great screen entertainment. Adult and child imaginations are excited by images of war. Experience of war’s suffering sets a moratorium on this excitement - until a new generation knows only the images, and then the military images return.

Beliefs can be stated publicly that a world of peace would be stultifying and boring, that suffering is necessary as a foil to make life interesting. Dystopias can have dramatic appeal - utopias are harder to imagine and require slow building, not projection of evil on to external enemies. Yet unless we can start imagining Peace, in our entertainment and everyday thinking, we can hardly achieve it.

When limens are raised too high, less of the variety and wonder of the real world is perceived, and there is less room for imagination to operate. When gross stimuli are needed to make impact, responses are more likely to come from the gut than the mind. Voyeurism of suffering and even readiness to inflict it are ways to achieve sensation when limens for gentler stimuli have become too high. Sensations that are blunted need heavy hammers to feel anything.

There are popular reactions to try to empty and numb minds as a protection against the stressful overload of stimuli in the modern world and cyberspace and the daily TV. This is a paradoxical response. Quietness and reduced stimulation are indeed needed, but they are needed not to blot out thinking and imagination, but rather to develop fuller appreciation of life, and permit openness to the small and lovely things in the world, as well as to the great things that are still possible.

The 1960s explored the possibilities of enlarging imagination and consciousness through psychedelic drugs. The desperate search by artists to be original can seek novelty from the confusion aroused by brain toxins, but the preferred property of drugs today is anesthetic, rather than aesthetic. Blunting exposure to the demands of the real world is a sort of negative pleasure. Yet the alert consciousness of undamaged brains is needed, so that more, not less, of the loveliness around us can be perceived and appreciated, and we can raise the mental energy to use our imaginations as lifesavers. It is this sort of mental energy that the greatest energy crisis in the world today.

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