The Science Of Imagination

It’s hard to imagine actively enjoying a class that starts at 07:30 in the morning. Three times a week. Especially with Final Semester Fever running amok. Yet I somehow have a professor who has managed to help me do just that…

Our class recently read Fitz-James O’Brien’s The Diamond Lens, and boy did discussions over it erupt! In the story, O’Brien toys with the ideas of science and the supernatural. Early on, the narrator visits a medium and interacts with a spirit. He asks the spirit how he can construct the world’s most powerful lens.

The spirit tells him to use “a diamond of one hundred and forty carats.” Which, conveniently, is a piece of property owned by the narrator’s close friend. Alas, this friend is repulsed by both the spirit and the medium. The friend declares that he would die before allowing the narrator to covet his diamond.

Scientists Vs. Writers

Anyway, a debate quickly arose among my classmates and I. We pondered about the nature of science versus the nature of imagination. I found my thoughts drift along, asking myself about the mindset of scientists compared to that of writers. I decided they’re actually quite the same.

Think about it:

Science is a field that explores and observes life. It [broadly] explains how the world works. And depending on the particular branch, science also observes how society functions.

Science is a way to gain insight into, and make sense of, the world.

Now consider this:

Writing is a field that explores and expresses life. At its deepest roots, writing is like a lens. And through that lens, we can explore the world. While we craft our characters and shape their worlds, we come to better understand the people and societies in our own.

A Common Lens

Scientists and writers are pushed by the same motivator: curiosity.

Sure, scientists use microscopes, theories, experiments, etc. to discover what happens under defined circumstances. This is how they learn about our environment. It even helps them invent ways to better our society.

Writers are exactly the same, guys. Except instead of microscopes, we use language to express and inspire. Our words paint pictures in our readers’ minds. They can also trigger debates like the one from my class.

Words encourage us to consider alternatives to our known reality. Consequently, we’re inspired to invent ways to better ourselves and society.

Micro Vs. Macro

With so much in common, it begs to questions what sets us apart from scientists. Maybe The Diamond Lens offers the answer.

See, the invention of the microscope triggered explorations of the smallest lifeforms imaginable. But during the American Renaissance, writers started to expand on current worldviews. They therefore chased after a macroscopic perspective.

Though macroscopic ideas pushed literature in the American Renaissance, writing continues to evolve. In recent decades, we’ve once again returned to more introspective literature. At least outside of academia. As we learn more about the craft of writing, we improve our voice and style. We think and write with more depth because of the Transcendentalists’ revolution.

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