Monday, March 10, 2014

The Imaginary Contract

Still Life Writing Table
William Michael Harnett
Private Collection

Writing offers us a powerful way of expressing ourselves and of answering our many questions about life and living. A beautifully impersonal penning inspires and fuels our minds with edenic images of time in suspension for our examination and rumination through the fields of flowers, but a narrative is often what people prefer to read. From the fables of Aesop to the stories of the Bible or Qu'ran, the narrative form provides a powerful way of learning and remembering moral lessons.

Still Life, Pipe and Mug
William Michael Harnett
Private Collection

Our world is rich with weird situations. Filled with intriguing characters whom we know and love, or imagine and despise. We use their lives to ask and answer our own questions about life. It is as if we have an "imaginary contract" with others. A binding but unwritten agreement between ourselves and others to write our own narrative, to compare our lives, our morals, and our beliefs against the actions of another. How are we alike? How are we different? Would we be the same or different if we had their lives?

Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife to Gyges (1820)
William Etty (1787-1849)

The 'Imaginary Contract' arises from the realization that we are separate and that it's in our best interest to understand exactly how and why. We slip on the Ring of Gyges when we enter our imagination and walk through the life of another. We can use the ring to imagine how to help another or how to get from them what we need for our own lives. We use the imaginary ring for good or evil, depending on our circumstances in life, our morals, values, and mindset. In a sense we disregard the social contract we have with others to do no harm, and have others, in turn, treat us the same. While the act of imagining another person's life and actions may do no harm in the traditional sense, what we do afterwards is a direct reflection of what we previously imagined, turning the act of imagining into a preconception.

The Eye of Sauron

This act of imagining is related to the principle of 'natural justice,' which is an aspect of human ethics. Certain actions are embedded in our conscience. Justice is primarily based on natural ideas and values which are universal in nature. In this respect, imagining the lives and motivations of others and placing ourselves into those scenarios is all about fairness, reasonableness, equity and equality.

Imagine a time in the near future when we will be able to 'sense' another imagining us or hacking into our lives via their imaginary cortex. Will we deem this permissible, or will each thought become an aspect of our lives admissible in a court of law? Will we someday determine the circumstances by which we might think of another? Will we be allowed to think ill thoughts or will thinking ill thoughts count against us? Will psychologists be able to assist us in correcting our thoughts about others, while mentors aide us in thinking more positively until we can actively imagine them in positive situations. Could the simple act of imagining every human as a good agent capable of achieving their goals while simultaneously assisting us to achieve our own aide in their (and our) ability to do so by nature of our buying into that heightened reality? Only time will answer these questions ... 


Mind what you imagine
it matters. 

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