The Twin Beams of Imagination and Observation
Thirty years ago, as a young man, I read 'A Criminal History of Mankind' by Colin Wilson. This book left a lasting impression on me.
After reading 600 pages of descriptions of various atrocities and abominations, Wilson, in the final chapter, attempts to show how the advancement of human society is inversely related to the development of crime, and shows how crime is the failure of the will and related in it's characteristics to the freedoms created by modern society.
He relates this to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, showing that as society provided for each need, crime provided a shortcut to the next need.
Modern society now caters for so many of our needs that certain individuals attempt to 'self actualise' through murder and sadism.
But in the final chapter introduces the metaphor of the Dam Busters to explain intention and how this relates to criminal activity.
Wilson describes how the Dam Busters faced a problem: For their bouncing bombs to hit the target they need to fly at a specific height. Barnes-Wallace came up with a great solution. Two lights would be placed at angles to each other on the underside of the bombers whose beams would meet on the surface of the water the plane would be at the exact height to release the bombs.
Influenced by the philosophy of Husserl, Wilson uses these beams as a metaphor for intention.
Barnes-Wallace arrived at this idea through the use of two incredible human faculties; Imagination and Observation.
These two faculties can be seen as the two 'beams' of intention, and are at the root of all Art and Science. Art and Science are the two greatest achievements of humanity and are responsible for the creation and advancement of human civilisation.
Anxiety, depression and crime can be seen as the failure of these two faculties, a lack of imagination; the inability to see things as they actually are and imagine how they could be in the future and act accordingly.
When Newton discovered gravity he did this through a process of observation and imagination. When Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel he did the same. The greatest results of Art and Science are the points where the beams joined up.
The failures of humanity are due to the inability to see things as they actually are and act accordingly based upon how we imagine things could be in the future. To see things as they are we need to stop observing things entirely from our point of view.
From our point of view we are at the centre of the universe and the earth is flat. To get a better view we need to imagine another viewpoint.
When we do this the beams meet. (for this is the point where imagination and observation meet!)
Einstein makes his breakthrough when he imagines looking at the universe from the point of view of a beam of light. and humanity is always better when it sees the world from the point of view of the disenfranchised and vulnerable.
Now think of the world's current problems. The rise of the intolerant right, the want to control our borders, the impending environmental disaster, the rise of mental health issues in the young. These can be seen as the failure of the beams to meet.
It is so important that we understand that technology and morals come from Science and Art respectively. Wisdom can be seen as the respect of truth and the appreciation of beauty. Or the respect of observation and the appreciation of the imagination.
It is only through the respect and appreciation of the twin beams of intention will humanity navigate it's way out of this current mess we find ourselves in.