The Human Imagination
The human imagination is a very powerful thing. It sets humanity apart from the rest of the creatures that roam the planet by giving them the ability to make creative choices. The imaginary world is unavoidably intertwined with the real world and there are many ways by which to illustrate this through literature, either realistically or exaggerated. Almost everything people surround themselves with is based on the unreal. Everything from the food we eat to the books we read had to have been thought of by someone and their imagination. The imagination empowers humans.^1 It allows people to speculate or to see into the future. It allows artists to create, inventors to invent, and even scientists and mathematicians to solve problems. J.R. Tolken wrote “Lord of the Rings” by sitting in his backyard and imagining everything coming to life.^2 He thought about all the “what if” possibilities. But this method of storytelling can be used in much more subtle and/or sophisticated ways than in science fiction or fantasy novels.
Through such works as the short story Dreams and the novel “Headhunter” by Timothy Findley, the film “the Matrix”, and the short story the Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, one can see how a writer can use the concept of the imaginary invading reality to write their story. In Dreams, by Timothy Findley, the main characters, two married psychiatrists named “the doctors Marlo”, have a fairly normal marriage. But they are both dealing with professional cases that are invading their personal lives. Mrs. Marlo specializes in autistic children. One case she is working on is that of a little boy who won’t talk, eat or sleep. She grows attached to this child and thinks of him as almost her own son. Meanwhile, Everett Marlo, her husband, is plagued by nightmares caused by one of his more puzzling cases, which results in insomnia. He begins to share his patient’s nightmares and dreams that he is looking through his patient’s dreaming eyes and is committing savage and bloody murders.
Findley uses his character’s dreams to show that the imaginary dreams that Everett is having affects his normal, day to day reality. This makes for many plot possibilities that the author could have chosen. But Findley chose to have Everett fall asleep and have Mrs. Marlo discover her husband covered head to toe in someone else’s blood in the bathroom. Findley chose to have Everett’s dream invade reality, leaving the reader to think about the possibilities of how the blood got there and why. Like Tolken with “Lord of the Rings”, Findley wondered what would happen if the imaginary world invaded the real world, in this case, what if a nightmare became reality. In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Telltale Heart, a man’s own overactive imagination, combined with a little obsessive/compulsive disorder, causes him to murder an old man in his sleep.
Poe chose to have the narrator be nameless and to tell his story like it was a confession, he tells the reader in detail about how and why he killed his victim, he thinks about the “what if” possibilities of writing a madman. Poe put himself in the proverbial shoes of a madman to write this story, therefore he had to imagine what it would be like to be mad. He concocted the narrator’s compulsive desire to kill the old man because of his “evil eye” that was always watching and accusing him. The narrator guides the reader through his plan to murder the old man, every detail is worked out perfectly; from first gaining the old man’s friendship and trust to eventually smothering him until his heart stopped beating and then chopping him up and hiding him under the floor boards. The narrator’s madness gets the better of him when the police come to question him and his paranoia gives him away.
He can hear the dead man’s heartbeat grow louder and louder. The narrator’s imagination becomes a reality for him. He thinks the police are mocking him by “pretending” not to hear it, and the narrator eventually loses control and confesses that he killed the old man and that he is buried under the floorboards. All along, the sound was just a manifestation of the narrator’s psychological problems, but to him the heartbeat is a clearly audible and not in the least bit irrational. Poe , like Findley, wrote about the possibilities of a breakdown of the border between imagination and reality. The borders between reality and imagination have been totally reversed in the Wachowski brothers’ film “the Matrix”. The film display the same type of “what if” writing, but applied to the genre of science fiction and explores both the limits of the human mind and the frightening possibilities of what machines may be capable of.
The basis for the whole story is that of what if what is thought of as reality is someone or something else’s imagination. In the story, the world that most people live in is a kind of virtual reality for the mind while the body is grown for the sole reason of fuelling the machines. All this came about when humanity invented artificial intelligence, they gave machines the power of choice. Now that the machines could choose, they could use their imagination to rebel against their creators and rule the world. Humanity fought back and blocked the sun (the machines’ source of power) in an attempt to stop them.
But the machines used their imagination to think of a new fuel. They made people living batteries, because of all the energy they generate to live, and grew them in fields of crops of healthy bodies and fed them the liquefied dead while their minds were kept active and alive in a virtual reality. The film, because the machines are declared “intelligent” once they are able to choose, gives the theory that the imagination equals intelligence, like Northrop Frye’s theory. Humans use their imagination to shape reality. Frye says that the human imagination can change the natural world into a man-made, or human, world. The more imagination one possesses, the more they have the power to change the world.