An Interview with the Director of the Imaginary Foundation
BY JASON SILVA
The Imaginary Foundation says “Great art expands the way we see—it uplifts the human spirit from the barbaric and thrusts it toward the numinous.” – An Interview with The Director of The Imaginary Foundation, (reprinted with permission from The Imaginary Foundation from a recent feature in Juxtapoz Magazine)
The Imaginary Foundation is a think tank from Switzerland that does experimental research on new ways of thinking and the power of the imagination. They hold dear a belief in human potential and seek progress in all directions. The small clandestine team is headed up by the mysterious “Director,” a 70-something über-intellectual whose father founded the Dadaist movement. Avoiding direct publicity, the team has sought clothing as an unlikely vehicle for bringing their ideas beyond the academic realm and into popular culture. A multicultural design team based in San Francisco articulates The Director’s ideas and translates them into consumable formats for the new generation. The questions for this interview with The Director were asked by members of the Imaginary Foundation community via Facebook.
1) How did The Imaginary Foundation come to be? What was the inspiration? –Matt Zeutenhorst
It’s a rather amusing story, actually: I was having a coffee with my dear friend at the time, Jean-Paul Sartre, at this great little place on the left bank in the early 1960s. Somewhere during our animated exchange, Jean-Paul uttered the words, “because we can imagine we are free.” I dropped my brioche in astonishment, my synapses standing on end, awestruck by his profound insight. All at once, I felt every cell in my body command me to create a context for this idea to come alive, to unleash the conditions for this ontological liberation to manifest and to surround myself with a group of people who felt the same compulsive urge to give power to the imagination. I had a moment of synesthetic ecstasy as I watched my favorite pastry tumble down the cobblestone street only to be finally intercepted by a hungry crow (I think it was a corneille noire, native to the area). Sadly, a little while after that Jean-Paul and I had a falling out, as he felt I’d become a little too bourgeois, but the glow of his inspiration stayed with me and in 1973 I formed The Imaginary Foundation.
2) What is it about The Imaginary Foundation that makes you wake up in the morning? What compels you to work with this foundation? –Rebecca Renberg
The unquenchable yearning to experience nature’s elegant truths and her exquisite interrelationships. I feel it’s profound that atoms have assembled into entities which are somehow able to ponder their own origins. I am humbled by each and every moment that I’m conscious enough to engage in this mysterious and poetic byproduct of cosmic evolution. IF we at The Imaginary Foundation can imbue our work with the most minuscule twinkle of this reverence, and in doing so inspire someone to act with the strength and courage to accomplish something positive, then this is worth getting out of bed for.
3) Why is the imagination so important? –Marshall Harding
Imagination is the factory that makes legends. It is the beginning of all achievement. To imagine is to perceive many potential futures, select the most delightful possibility, and then pull the present forward to meet it. Imagination has transported us from shivering in dark caves to triumphantly floating above our precious blue earth. It reminds us that reality is malleable and we are the architects of our own fate.
4) So, what is beauty? –Pierre Mâché
Beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. It can spontaneously arise at any moment given the right circumstances, point of view, and context. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace. It can be a rousing symphonic climax, or just the way the light catches the edge of a rusty old trash can. To seek beauty is to have the willingness, the inclination, and the impetuous desire for this chance encounter to transpire. IF you look at history, great art expands the way we see—it uplifts the human spirit from the barbaric and thrusts it toward the numinous.
5) Why do you have so much faith in creativity? –Everett Ruskin
Because there is a moment that emerges when the creative process itself seems to “talk” to the artist. Those who have listened deeply to this “voice” that echoes the rhythms of the universe, and can recite its reverberations back into the stream, are capable of creating work that can enchant the very cosmos itself. So I have faith in the surrender and acceptance of the creative act and the humility to know that a great artist is but a conduit for an expression that resonates with something that is greater than him or herself.
6) Who creates reality? –Donald Maynard
Our experience of reality is created by our perception of it. Robert Anton Wilson asserted that our “reality tunnel” could be likened to a perception filter. The pores of this filter are in the shapes of embodied metaphors. To make biological survival possible, the immensity of perception has to be funneled through the “reducing valve” of the brain and the nervous system. The function of the brain and sense organs is thus to eliminate, or filter, data. Each person is, at each moment, capable of perceiving the totality of awareness—the function of the brain is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely irrelevant knowledge. We do, however, erratically make contact with other realms where we perceive a more absolute knowledge of reality. At this more fundamental level, the “who” dissolves and there only “is.” In this realm we’re not the centre of things, but merely one of the vertices of the infinite polygon that unites nature, reason, and imagination to the multiverse.
7) What attitudes, practices, and precautions should people adopt now in preparation for the technological singularity that will better ensure the sustainability and security of the planet and future generations, without curtailing our drive to transcend our limits and realize the impossible? –Toussaint Egan
We must be mindful of our current trajectory and the fragility of the moment in history that we now occupy. It may be argued that science and technology have already outrun our morality and we are on an inevitable path to extinction. Indeed, in 1966, Carl Sagan and Boris Shklovskii suggested that technological civilizations will tend to either destroy themselves within a century of developing interstellar communicative capability or master their self-destructive tendencies and survive for billion-year timescales. The time in which we find ourselves is certainly full of unique challenges, but there has always been struggle when facing new paradigms—it’s how we deal with these upheavals that matters. As my dear friend Marshall McLuhan noted:“It is how we perceive [cataclysmic changes] and react to them that will determine their ultimate psychic and social consequences. If we refuse to see them at all, we will become their servants. It’s inevitable that the world-pool of electronic information movement will toss us all about like corks on a stormy sea, but if we keep our cool during the descent into the maelstrom, studying the process as it happens to us and what we can do about it, we can come through.”I believe we can influence events. Yes, there are powerful forces that can determine the direction of the future, but I truly believe the future doesn’t happen only passively and inevitably. The future is CREATED—it is imagined and realized by visionaries who work and sacrifice for it.“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality—and then there are those who turn one into the other.” –Douglas EverettSo let’s become entangled in empathy, absorbed in altruism, deified through diversity, and cajoled into cooperation. Let’s coalesce reason, knowledge, logic, data, metrics, intuition, passion, romance, poetry into a single note, and sing it in the key of synergy. It will be these qualities, and more, that will help us take the next perilous step into the journey of our collective destiny, allowing us to gaze into the mirror of naked self-truth and know that we can be wonderful.
8) Do we create the idea of imagination or does the idea of imagination create what we perceive? –Graham Marousek
Hmmm a strange loop, indeed. In formal systems in mathematics these “strange loops” take on an interesting quality. Douglas Hofstadter states in the 20th anniversary preface to Godel, Escher, Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid: “It is a loop that allows a system to ‘perceive itself,’ to become ‘self-aware.’ By virtue of having a loop, a formal system acquires a self. The key to consciousness is not the stuff out of which brains are made, but the patterns that can come to exist inside the stuff of a brain. Brains are media that support PATTERNS that mirror the world, of which, needless to say, those brains are themselves denizens— and it is in the inevitable self-mirroring that arises that the strange loops of consciousness start to swirl. In other words, An “I” comes about via a kind of vortex, whereby patterns in a brain mirror the brain’s mirroring of the world and eventually mirror themselves, whereupon the vortex of “I” becomes a real, causal entity. The more self-referentially rich such a loop is, the more conscious is the self to which it gives rise.” So perhaps it could be argued that consciousness is a nascent quality of the patterned self-organization of emergent complexity that seems to be an inevitability to the known universe. I, thus, consider myself a man of principle, even IF that principle does seem to be a little weak and anthropic.
9) In terms of business entrepreneurship, what do you think is next for our country/the world/society in general? –Rebecca Renberg
The evolution of technology has morphed the relationship between consumer and creator forever. The communal ownership of the means of production, the production of ideas at least, is a reality today. But I feel we’re experiencing a seismic shift in many aspects of human culture and the shift in business is part of a much larger process—the birth of a supermassively parallel collective consciousness. This “Global Mind” may still be a little groggy, but it is clearly waking up. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said to me, “Just as Earth once covered itself with a film of interdependent living organisms which we call the biosphere, so mankind’s combined achievements are forming a global network of collective mind.” The monumental consequences of this unfolding process and the labyrinth of realtime feedback within the process make it almost unfathomable to speculate on outcomes. Our future cannot be parsed into the simple binary of a utopia or dystopia. The complex, volatile, and chaotic nature of the future we’re beginning to glimpse is as daunting as it is encouraging. However, I remain positive. We may be stumbling, fumbling, flawed primates, but when we work together, we are primates that can fly!
10) Do you think there will be a point in human evolution where we can fully understand the very nature of life? –Alexander D. Beckwith
As we move from a world defined by objects into a world extensively defined by relations, the human experience will begin to dissolve into the greater universal flux of cosmic processes. We will cross the boundary into the extended reality of the virtualized grid, where the actions of body manifested through clicks and hyperconnected technology will become a field of mediated sense thoughts. The filters will be removed and the deeper metapatterns will become revealed. It will be then that the interdependent co-extensive nature of the omniverse will explode into being. A vision of the previously flawed but now upgradeable primate, once known as mankind, will finally emerge, understood in its true nature—a dynamic holographic pattern integrity, surfing the wholly extended wave-particle structure of the universe. Until then, I myself will be paying attention to all things with openness and wonder.Henry Miller once said, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” I don’t think grass gets much greener than the grass here in the Swiss Alps.
11) What do you think about sharing? –Creative Comomons
Sharing is the mechanism that propels culture forward. Cultural evolution, like its biological counterpart, is driven by random mutation. This process of recombination, iteration, and sharing enables the stickiest ideas to survive. When we share, it is as though the global imagination is breathing. To inhale is to be nourished by inspiration—to exhale is to evoke it.
12) I know that the power of imagination is infinite, but at what moment does an idea come into reality and are all of our individual realities part of a big idea? –Adolfo Ramirez
IF, as Carl Jung posited, we share a collective unconscious, then surely we share a collective imagination as well. Writer Steven Johnson confirmed this when, after researching the history of good ideas, he found that individual epiphanies are almost never the source of insight. Breakthrough ideas are inherently social creations that come about after a period of maturation within the collective womb. Isaac Asimov noted that, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the only one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but rather, ‘Hmm… that’s funny…’”Each of us is a pattern within a larger social metapattern, and we each have a unique vantage point from which we view our world. As we connect with others and share our individual models of the world with each other, our shared model grows through a gradual process that few can see. The “epiphany” moment occurs when a highly connected mind looks around and notices what the cognitive ant hill has been working on. He or she gives a name to that which has already been built, but that simple yet profound act of identification sends waves of awareness through the global brain, solidifying it within our social memory.
13) Your past is a bit of mystery. I heard a rumor that you played chess with Stanley Kubrick. Is that true? –Linus Leibkörper
When I was an extra on Dr. Strangelove, Stanley and I played a little chess. I recall him noting that the game was a cosmic metaphor—the board, which is a finite realm of two dimensions, is similar to a finite view of the universe. The chess pieces, meanwhile, are of two types: finite or infinite. The finites are the king, pawn, and knight: They move in single bounds of established length. The infinites are the queen, bishop, and rook: They move at any length and are theoretically able to transcend the limits imposed by the board. Stanley asked me, “Are you a finite or an infinite player?” I looked down as his words ricocheted from neuron to neuron . After a long pause, my head still bowed, I mumbled a response: “Each of us, Mr. Kubrick, each one of us has the potential to be an infinite player.” I looked up, but Stanley was gone—already engulfed by the next scene.
14) How did you come about this idea of the Undivided Mind, merging the often opposing tension that art and science creates? What has been your journey? –Rebecca Renberg
It has been a tumultuous, exhilarating, and often absurdly funny ride for us all here at The Imaginary Foundation. A process mediated by many hours of conversation, dialog, downloading, and engagement with a multitude of rational and fantastic thinkers. There has been lots of trial and error and a litany of mistakes, but I feel it is only by embracing this childlike experimentation fearlessly that our undivided minds may one day create a more undivided world.
15) What’s the point? –Dustin Gire
Perhaps, ultimately, there is no point. Ironically, for me, this is what makes it so profound to be alive. Life is like a blank canvas. Meaning is the paint you throw on that canvas. Life exists in individual moments and it’s up to us to make sure those moments are vital, interconnected, and vast. A life that can contribute to the collective social experience is a life that’s nurturing and meaningful. Each of us has meaning, and we bring it to life. What is the point? Perhaps it’s not necessary to ask that question when you yourself are the answer.
16) So, lastly heir Director, do you believe in God? –Bonkers Bainbridge
I am a non-teleological existential pantheist. 17) What does that mean? –Bonkers BainbridgeIt means that I believe there is an intelligence that runs throughout the entire universe…except for some parts of the Jersey Shore.
18) Your recent exhibit, The Undivided Mind, aims to marry art and science… can you expand on this? – JasonSilvaAs Leonard Shlein wrote in Art and Physics “The artist and scientist may at first seem strange bedfellows. Of the many human disciplines, there are few that could seem more divergent. The artist employs image and metaphor; the scientist uses number and equation. Art creates illusions meant to evoke emotion, while science engages in the pursuit of empirical verification.…” There is, to some degree, a physiological cause for this apparent divergence: the two halves, or hemispheres, of the brain. The right side of the brain is responsible for emotions and intuition, the left for logic and reason. Yet the notion of two brains gives rise to the function of one mind. Perhaps it is this one “undivided mind” that presents a way forward through the monumental cultural changes we now face, enabling us to surf this dynamic moment in history from a platform of balance and symmetry.The Undivided Mind exhibit endeavors to fuse the aesthetic beauty of art and science in order to create a synthesis of mind, one which is as much rational as it is fantastic. Think of this undivided mind as a prototype of human possibility—an evolutionary signal of convergence, harmony, and accelerated progress. The rest is up to us.
19) Your aesthetic and philosophical framing is bursting with a sense of optimism and beauty– how do you do it?
The Imaginary Foundation is future-focused, and always has been, so we’re exploring what comes after we push through the darkness; we’re already reveling in the beauty on the other side of the looking glass. And believe me, it’s wonderful. Living creatively and joyfully requires dismissing gloom, defeatism and negativism. We acknowledge problems, but we do not allow them to dominate our thinking and our direction. So we prefer to be FOR rather than AGAINST, to create solutions rather than to protest against what exists.There are things worth believing in; there are things worth being passionate about; and so our action must not be a reaction but a creation. For ideas catch the dewdrops and reflect the cosmos, so let those ideas be noble, let them be poetic and let them be beautiful.’
Jason Silva is a media personality and Fellow at the Hybrid Reality Instiute