Archive for July 2nd, 2014

The Imagination Institute

The Imagination Institute logo

A new venture in the scientific study of imagination

One of my theological interests is in the theology of creation — creation understood both as noun and verb — and through that, the theology of imagination.

Imagination ties together my theological and spiritual interests. I believe it is crucial to giving a rich account of discernment. I wrote a piece some time ago for Thinking Faith on the Faithful Imagination outlining some of those ideas.

Now the Scientific American blog reports a new venture, The Imagination Institute ‘dedicated to making progress on the measurement, growth, and improvement of imagination across all sectors of society’.

Our ability to overcome the constraints of the present environment and travel to distant places and hopeful futures all in the mind is a skill that is hugely neglected in today’s society. With our intense focus on enabling students and employees to master what is, we are missing out on the huge opportunity for them to also imagine what could be.

That ‘all in the mind’ worries me!

The executive director of The Imagination Institute is Martin Seligman– founder of the field of positive psychology. The lead scientific consultant is Marie Forgeard, and I am the scientific director. Our board of scientific advisors consists of psychologists Angela Duckworth, Rex Jung, Dean Keith Simonton, Robert Sternberg, and Philip Tetlock, novelist Richard Powers, and Major General (ret) Robert Scales. We also are building up an excellent team of researchers here at the University of Pennsylvania, including Jeanette Elstein and Jane Reznik.

To help achieve its mission, the Imagination Institute is holding a grants competition titled Advancing the Science of Imagination: Toward an “Imagination Quotient” to test, validate and develop measurement tools and interventions for imagination and perspective (download Request for Proposals). In 2015, up to fifteen (15), two-year grants in the range of $150,000 to $200,000 will be awarded to scholars from around the world.

The awards are intended to generate new scientific information in order to further clarify the construct of imagination and its measurement for the purpose of advancing an understanding of the human mind and its role in the optimization of human potential and flourishing.

Very interesting. I wonder whether it will engage with imagination in its fullest sense. In my article, Faithful Imagination, I say:

Whenever the imagination poses a choice, faith is implicated – and not just when the subject matter is explicitly religious as in the Exercises. Something akin to discernment is going on within our artist and our scientist too, some faith is being deepened or not. I do not mean this in the trivial sense that religious pundits sometimes use when they accuse scientists of relying on their own version of faith: this goes deeper. Whenever the imagination gets involved – which is everywhere – we are faced with the question of quality, of value. Where does value come from? We are inclined to be split between a scientific imagination that systematically omits value from the world – despite the pattern-perceiving acts upon which science is built – and the imagination of the humanities that conjures a profusion of possible culture-relative values. But the naturally religious imagination – which has rather been marginalised for the last few hundred years – insists that value is to be discovered in the world in a way that moves the human heart. Or, perhaps better, between the world and the human heart when they are engaged together in imagination. The religious imagination insists that imagination does not just run wild but that imagination is always faithful or unfaithful to something real, and that we can register the difference in how it moves the heart.

It would be a shame if the Imagination Institute focussed so closely on the psychology of imagination that it missed it cosmic dimension.

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Space without the Space

surface area of the solar system

from XKCD: Space without the Space

Hot on the heels of the periodic table of fictional elements: an infographic of ‘the solar system’s solid surfaces stitched together’ from the guys at xkcd.

I like the tiny spot on the ‘western’ border of Titan best.

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Praying Your Personal Psalm

This suggestion for prayer comes from the old Loyola Hall website. It was penned by Edel McClean and grew out of her retreats for people with chronic illness.

Peter Purves Smith - The Pleading Butcher, 1948

The psalms have always been used in communal or liturgical ways but they also seem to evoke very intense feelings that can resonate powerfully with us as individuals. And all life and emotion is there! Ranting anger and hurt; joyful exultation; recrimination and remorse; trust and confidence. Often a psalm will carry the weight of moods that seem contradictory and confusing — just as we can seem to ourselves.

Some psalms are beautiful; some are clever; some are shocking in their venom. The biblical Psalms offer us a resource through which to express our deepest feelings: let one resonate and express what we need to get out before God. But sometimes borrowed words don’t feel enough: that can be the time to write our own psalm.
Writing Your Psalm
1) Take a moment to pay attention to yourself. Recognise if you’re tense or nervous; exhilarated or calm. Either way don’t judge yourself, just notice and let it be.

2) Begin to pour out whatever you feel on paper. Include how it feels to be you and how it feels to be in your current circumstance whatever that may be. Include how you feel towards God at the moment. Include what you need and want.

3) Try not to judge what you write. Don’t try to make it ‘good’ or poetic or tidy or acceptable. Don’t temper it. Try to let the truth out, without being afraid that this is irrational or something you shouldn’t feel or something you shouldn’t say to God. Try not to censor your emotions or language.

3) As you start to run out of words, include something of how it feels to have written all of this, and where you feel you are now.

4) The writing has already been prayer but you will probably want to pray your psalm again. Maybe immediately or maybe later. Pick a spot where you can use your psalm without interruption or embarrassment. The purpose isn’t to ‘make something happen’ or to achieve some resolution but to express yourself fully and honestly to God.

5) As you pray notice if God is hearing you and, if it feels right, give God some space to do God’s part: to join in, to respond, or just to listen. See if you can catch the tone of God’s voice, the quality of God’s presence.

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