“I was always inventing stories and schemes to make sense of things I didn’t understand.”
—Cesar Aira, “The Musical Brain”
Fanciful imagination is the domain of the young. With only a limited understanding of the world around them, but an insatiable eagerness to learn, children are quick to ask questions and quicker yet to create answers. They are not bound by the laws of reality; their tender minds have yet to be shackled to the systems by which society runs the world. For them, the moon is just as likely to a giant, glowing marshmallow as it is to be a friendly light that keeps the terrors of the night away. Why would it be something as dull as a rock reflecting the light of the sun? A child’s ignorance is a child’s greatest asset. They still possesses the dexterity and agility to jump from one thought to another, connecting two seemingly random ideas with an ease that we can barely see, much less follow. They make impossible jumps in logic to justify that which they do not yet understand.
How do birds fly? They ask the wind to send them high into the air.
On the contrary, the minds of adults are grounded in reality. School trained us to search for the right answer—the only answer. Regardless of subject matter, we were taught to regurgitate what we learned; no matter how a question was asked, we were expected to find the desired answer or face disappointment. Our brains were molded and crafted with the laws of science, mathematics, history, and morals into the ideal form. We were trained to solve problems with complex but proven methods. Our experiences taught us right from wrong and the value of correctness over irrationality. For the greater good, we all subscribed to a singular way of seeing the world, choosing a common understanding over chaos. Over a lifetime of studious study and carefully-applied knowledge, we graduated to adulthood with a certificate of practicality and reality. We became stuck in our stubborn ways.
What makes sunsets orange? When the sun is low on the horizon, sunlight must travel a longer distance through the atmosphere, and the greater number of molecules in the air between us and the sun disperse more of the shorter wavelengths of light, leaving only oranges and reds. Why does rain fall? Because moisture is pulled from the oceans by the heat of the sun, and all that evaporated water must eventually come back down when it becomes too heavy to float in the atmosphere.
Why are these leaves red? An adult would probably answer with something about the shortening of days, the lessening of light, the imminent cold of winter, and the dying of leaves. Tragic.
As Marko Kauppinen once said, “We are boring. Things that work are boring.” When the whole world sits answered before us, where is the intrigue and the mystery? Where are the unexpected moments to surprise and amuse us?
Luckily, our world is far from answered. Despite the vast stores of knowledge sitting in classrooms, libraries, and servers, there is so much to learn that can’t be found in a single page or byte. So much of what surrounds us has yet to be experienced by even a single human being. There are moments too small, eons too long, particles too minuscule, forms too gargantuan for us to wrap our brains around. There are situations that happened that we simply weren’t there to record. We live in a world rich with unknowns, unknowns that we will never know, but waiting for us to imagine into life.
It can be daunting to live in a world that we don’t understand. It’s difficult to accept that we may never master the forces that push and pull us. That discomfort is why humanity dedicates so many lifetimes to seeking answers that may never be found. But how long must we work until we give up? How many lives are worth that one moment of epiphany? After generations of research and still no answer, is that eureka moment really that much more rewarding than taking the time to imagine the answer for ourselves?
For whom are these chairs placed? Maybe these chairs were respectfully left here for the ghosts of residents past to enjoy the neighborhood in comfort.
So try letting your imagination free again. Close your eyes and revel in the feelings of childhood. Even though those strange ideas aren’t the easiest to accept, and even though they’ll sometimes be derided, discounted, or left for mad—take the chance. Don’t let the sneering dissuade exploration and experimentation. Sometimes, it takes a venture into the unknown to find new ways of understanding. That leap of faith into the craziness of our imaginations might be the key to opening new doors. By doing so, what new horizons might we see before us?