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. 


Anonymous said...

I had put time away to comment on 'A Dream of Genius' but this post caught my eye and has inspired me. Although my response is aimed mostly at the tail end of your piece, I found all of it a wonderful note on imagination. Also I am guilty of a little bit of adapted thinking and almost like a Rorschach test, I read and expelled my response with bullet like speed (even though I started this earlier and am only now getting round to finishing). What caught my eye is more than likely not what you were conveying here but my mind interprets a phrase and goes off on a tangent, which invariably removes intention from the purity of any piece lol.
I am the archetypal pessimist you see? And the alarms can sound with a myriad of subject matters. The topic of mind accessibility, voluntary or otherwise, has always fascinated me ever since I was a kid growing up watching films. Sometimes there were the comedy and action packed movies and sometimes there would be elements of ‘Big Brother’ trying to crush the protagonist.
Social commentary on the subject of big brother or advanced pre-cognitive crime prevention are wide spread and noted in many science fiction materials etc. I cannot see how I could bring anything new to the mix. However, my take on it is simply a logical one. Our minds are designed to be free. From the rich to the poor, chained or unrestricted, we are all capable of imagination and living the way we dream and I cant help but query the need of a corrective force within any society that deems it necessary to perform such perfunctory acts. For then… we are, by very definition, robots. For robots can be accessed and viewed by a second entity from a ‘point of view’ perspective, to group viewings of those oh so clever FPS games we love to play. How exciting though to know how another might feel; pain, love, joy, sadness. I do wonder however, at what point does human nature evolve into detachment of genuine tangibility …. What is life without our own direct injection of thoughts? Will contamination occur if the other is available? I fight the thought that there couldn’t be a just equilibrium in this utopia but as I say, I’m a pessimist ;P

I then found myself asking; who are we using as a template for the base line, especially psychologists of the future who are capable of correcting our thoughts? If we go on today’s standards then there are so many mental issues that could use that kind of application…... be it through some fantastic device or perhaps evolution. I wonder how diluted the professional mind would be by the time it is available to the needy. Perhaps I do believe it would benefit mankind and ease the pain of those silent voices…In my heart, that is what I wish.

Remove my empathy and accessibility to my own experiences, so I may swim without fear of the sharks.


Soph Laugh said...

you certainly raise some interesting points and I appreciate the utopian unrestricted concept of mental freedom. I agree with it... but freedom of thought does not necessarily include thinking about others, in particular in negative ways. Humans are sensory creatures, often times 'sensing' when someone is thinking negative thoughts about them as thoughts are physical and tangibly felt by those attuned to such fluctuations. The more attuned we become with the advent of technological implants, the more visible our thoughts become (not just our emails and digital exchanges), the more these things might indeed someday become regulated. And yes, it does sound a bit big brotherish, which is one way of looking at it ... though on the other side of the coin, it could be beneficial for a society at large to learn how to control their thoughts, and consequently their actions, by training their thoughts toward progress and enlightenment (lazy word meaning thoughts that inspire or motivate the individual to take positive action) rather than stay stuck in ancient paradigms associated with power and greed due to a lack of resources. Anyhow, all interesting thoughts.

One final comment: "Remove my empathy" ... without empathy, one would not be bound by morals, and thus not participate in the moral contract or social contract, which would not necessarily be a good thing. So, let's hope for all of humanity and the universe at large that in all our tinkering with the human brain we do not eradicate the structure or essence from which morality arises, though admittedly nature has done this a few times just to give us a glimpse of what could come.

To end these topics on a positive note ... I'm wondering about Super Heroes in that they have powers beyond the ordinary ... by what laws are they bound? Perhaps not by their superheroness but by their normality in the sense that they love others and enter into relationships with others ... hence even Superheroes participate in the social contract, or in the imaginary contract, in this case. From their actions, they not only participate, they honor it ... and that's what being a Superhero is all about. :D Yay!

Anonymous said...

Remove my empathy so I may swim with sharks… far from what I believe but have seen this type of subliminal coding over the years in various forms of media. I wrote that wondering if that kind of concept would be supervision driven and controlled. It’s very true what you said about empathy, I feel the same way and perhaps in my first post ramblings, I forgot to cement my intention behind that phrase…Damn if only I had a time machine lol.

If there were no outside agendas such a thing would, I believe, ease us into the next level of evolution. I don’t know if you’d agree but I think that a progressive state of mind is where our true strength lies. It offers a way past the circles we have seemingly been caught up in for all time.

I have a thought and forgive me for yet again going off on a tangent… ‘freedom of thought does not necessarily include thinking about others’. … like free will, what would happen if its potential design is one of isolation or self-regard? A civilisation learning to control their thoughts or a civilisation to be controlled because of/ by their thoughts? Either way, surely ‘controlling’ contradicts the very notion of freedom? *cogs whirl away.

I hope if this is available sometime in the future there will be no chaos factor and as such, would be no cause for concerns or my sneaky suspicions lol.

I hope I’m not seen painting myself as confrontational (or some jaded weirdo) …. Far from it. In fact if you could see me now, I have a huge smile on my face because I’m loving the way you give me food for thought. Nothing better than honing or changing the thoughts you have for a clearer outcome. I’m getting to places a lot quicker thanks to these exchanges :D

Superheroes are bound by the biggest power of all…their moral compass. With this and cape in hand, they battle evil and save the day. Without this, they become the villain (the moral thingy not the cape thingy). I suppose one does not have to possess powers at all to be a superhero… look at Batman, Ironman and The Green Hornet….OH!! and me :D This imaginary contract is a perfect fit. Now where did I leave that micro-atomiser rail gun?

Mark aka Supermonk