Friday, October 17, 2008

Fanaticism and Imagination

Fanaticism is governed by imagination rather than judgment.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1866)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, the “little woman who started this war” (as described by Abraham Lincoln), in today’s vernacular would be described as very imaginative. Her Uncle Tom's Cabin is possibly the most influential social justice novel of all time. She wove an imaginary tale that opened a country’s eyes to the true shame of slavery. Today, imagination is not often linked to fanaticism; it is considered a good thing. Everyone wants it. Children have lots of it and the best adults never lose theirs. But if we define fanaticism as extreme single-mindedness, then maybe it could be paired with imagination after all. Some of the greatest thinkers of our time have been extremely single-minded. Einstein put in at least 10,000 hours trying to decipher physical differences of perspective. And his brand of fanaticism was definitely governed by imagination. In fact, he said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Albert Einstein (1950)

Are knowledge and judgment equivalent? They could be. In his new book, Human-The Science of What Makes Us Unique, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga explains

One of the major facts emerging from split-brain research is that the left hemisphere has marked limitations in perceptual functions and the right hemisphere has even more prominent limitations in its cognitive functions.

So, left-brain dominant people may be low on perception. And right-brain dominant people could be low on, ah, cognition. I am going to go ahead and tie this crazy thread of thoughts with a judgmental statement that could be fanatical.

Fanaticism is sometimes required to lead imagination towards good judgment.

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