The Forms of Things Unknown

In a world of intensifying ecological and social crises, imagination might sound like an irresponsibly frivolous activity with which to occupy one’s time. However, that could not be further from the case. Attempts to confine imagination to the realm of the illusory, fanciful, or whimsical inevitably fail. Imagination slips through the cracks of those conceptual categories. It evades binary oppositions like appearance/reality, subject/object, culture/nature, and form/matter. Imagine a tree, any tree. The image is not merely an apparition or a subjective representation, nor is it merely a mental or cultural construct. The image shows something true about trees, expressing a pattern in the natural world, a pattern that trees themselves produce. A tree lives, grows, and reveals its image, whether I imagine it or not. There is thus something material or elemental about imagination. How does anything real ever show up? How do unknown possibilities become actual? They emerge through a creative force of imagination. “Imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown,” as Shakespeare so aptly puts it. Responding to the mounting crises of this present age calls for scientific research, technological innovation, political mobilization, economic reform, community organizing, and so much more, and none of those can happen without people envisioning different possibilities, imagining peaceful, just, regenerative forms of life, bodying forth our shared future.

Sam Mickey, PhD is an educator, author, and editor working at the confluence of philosophy, religion, and ecology, adjunct lecturer in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at CIIS, as well as an adjunct professor in the Theology and Religious Studies department at the University of San Francisco.