Imagination, Belief, Intellect and Knowledge

Carl Helmle, Guest Writer
Waking Times

A wise man once said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Clearly however, most of our contemporary culture does not view it as such. Here in the western world, imagination is considered to be somewhat of a dubious use of time. At best, it is reserved for naive children and “artsy” types, and at worst, it is seen as an escape for somewhat “flighty” individuals with too much time on their hands or disillusioned souls who have lost their grip on “reality.” Sarcastic quips such as “she’s got quite a vivid imagination,” “he’s got his head in the clouds” or “don’t mind her, she’s in another world” give us a hint as to the basic opinion that the collective holds for the act of imagination. Contrast this with accolades such as “ he really has his feet on the ground,” “she is as solid as a rock” or “so and so is very down-to-earth” and it becomes quite clear that our society puts a much greater value on the rational mind than the imaginative mind. This dynamic was felt to be incorrect and commented on by the same “wise-man” when he stated that “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Could this be true? Could he be right? Isn’t it the development of the intellect, and with it, science that has freed us from the dark ages? Isn’t intuition and imagination just “make-believe” where as intellect and its “knowledge” are known facts? Perhaps the “wise-man” has been displaced by the “intelligent-man”?

  • The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines knowledge as: the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association. Wasn’t it however “common knowledge”, prior to the Copernican Revolution in the 16th Century, that earth was in the center of the universe? Wasn’t it “common knowledge” at one time that the earth was flat? Was Socrates on to something when he famously stated, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”  – or is he too just another outdated “wise-man”?

    With regards to imagination, a question I like to ponder is this: Would the Wright brothers have been able to invent and build the first airplane by using only their intellectual minds? For me, the answer is absolutely not! In order to enlist the power of their intellects on such a difficult and monumental task, they first had to imagine (believe) that it was possible. Had they not imagined that human flight was possible, their intellect would have determined that the pursuit of such a goal was pointless and thus “irrational” and the whole notion would have been discarded. You can see that I am using imagine and belief interchangeably here. That is because “belief” is the degree to which one can imagine something as possible.

    The great auto innovator and founder of Ford Motor Company Henry Ford described this point when he stated: “Whether you think you can or you can’t — you’re right.” Although I feel believe would have been a better choice than think in his quote, the gist of what he was saying is still clear, namely that belief (the ability to imagine the reality of something) effects the outcome and thus effects reality. If you believe you can accomplish something, chances are you will and if you believe you can not accomplish something, chances are you won’t. This truth can be seen many ways. It explains hot and colds “streaks.” World class athletes and even amateur weekend sports enthusiast have all have experienced both “hot streaks” and “cold streaks” where they just felt like they couldn’t fail or where they couldn’t perform at all. After experiencing a little success at a sport or, any endeavor for that matter, one’s confidence rises and when one’s confidence rises, so too does subsequent performance. You have heard the saying “confidence breeds confidence” and it is true! Of course the opposite is true as well; low confidence equates to poor performance which in turn leads to even lower confidence; hence the “slump.”

    Belief/imagination also explains the “placebo effect.” The placebo effect is where patients sometimes have a perceived or actual improvement of a medical condition as a result of believing that they were taking medicine that would help them with their condition. In actual fact however, they were merely consuming only sugar or some other inert pills. Belief creates expectation which in turn has a very real effect on an outcome and thus our “reality.” This dynamic can be reliably and repeatedly demonstrated within modern quantum mechanics (see “the observer effect”) and is the basis for such popular new age ideas such as “The Secret” and “The Power of Intention.”

    What is the difference between a two year old and a twelve year having their pants fall down in sight of their peers? The twelve year old will most certainly “feel” embarrassed and blush while the two year old will not. This is because the twelve year old has been conditioned to “believe” that exposed bare buttocks are not appropriate in our society and his belief effect his reality! Have you ever taken a drink of something and mistakenly grabbed the wrong glass or container and thus drank something that was different than what you had expected? When this has happened to me, it has created a negative experience. If I believe I am consuming milk but in fact take in orange juice the “taste” is perceived as “bad” when in reality the juice is fine, it just didn’t match my expectation. Again, our expectation created from our belief effects our reality.

    With all this in mind, I can not help but think of John Lennon and his timeless song “Imagine.” Could it be that he did not simply wanting us to “hear” a beautiful and fanciful song, but that in fact, he wanted us to “listen” and understand a very real message? The message being that the very act of imagining that there is “nothing to kill or die for” and that the “world could live as one” could actually become a reality! That world peace could be attained if only enough people believed it or could “imagine” it as possible.

    I strongly believe in the potential of imagination and that John Lennon did as well. Of course those very intellectual, rational and scientific people (the ones John Lennon spoke of in his lyric “you may say that I’m a dreamer”) may disagree with me and likely conclude that John Lennon could get away with those high ideals (beliefs) because he was an “artsy” type who didn’t have to live in the “real” world. Those same grounded and realistic people would also probably agree that the “intelligent-man” has indeed displaced the “wise-man” in our modern age and for the better.

    Oh, one last thing. So who was that supposed “wise-man” who uttered those outdated and rather naive words in the first paragraph above? It was none other than Albert Einstein. Imagine that!

    About the Author

    Carl Helmle, ATH Co-Editor of Shamanism, is a shamanic healer who operates Eagle Medicine,, in Lake Arrowhead, CA. He has personally studied with master healers: Stanislav Grof, Michael Harner, Hank Wesselman, Linda Fitch, Alberto Villoldo, Richard Bartlett, Gretchen Crilly McKay and Martin Ball.

    In addition to his shamanic practice, he is a certified wildlife care provider and long time volunteer at Wild Haven Ranch and works with raccoons, coyotes and birds of prey. He also teaches students art as part of the Meet the Masters program at Lake Arrowhead Elementary; and he is affiliated with Awakening in the Dream House, a healing center outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, that specializes in curing addiction with the very powerful African sacrament Iboga. Read more about Carl Helmle.

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