Many of the things we usually consider and treat reflexively as real and concrete, are, in fact, abstract fictions. Things like god, corporations, money, nations, human rights, and justice have no existence outside of human imagination. That we build institutions and infrastructure, churches and prisons, roads and walls, weapon systems and sports stadiums to express collective fictions that exist by mutual agreement does not make our abstractions real. Micheangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel does not make the abstraction of Catholic eschatology real, either.
As I’ve suggested before, the Neanderthals may have died out and Homo sapiens lived on as a species because the Neanderthals were realists and Homo sapiens–humans–were and are superior fabulists. Sapien language allowed our ancestors to create a fictive environment which affected increasingly massive changes in the real physical environment. But human imagination trumps the real only to a certain extent, because it is a subset, an epiphenomenon of the real, ding an sich.
Language, sapien language, is a tool like any other animal language; the fictive capacity of sapien language may have been a tool of war, a weapon, that enabled human groups to commit not only organized murder but genocide against other human species. Human myths, collective fictions, have a strong tendency to, or perhaps inevitably, become weaponized.
Human fiction is vital to large scale externalizations of real costs in the biosphere (such as pumping wastes and poisons into the atmosphere and oceans).
Human reason is specialized form of story-telling, and thus suspect, like all human fiction. Telling stories is easy, the natural form of information processing and storage in human language. Making a story an effective myth that people believe, or believe in believing as compulsory fiction, is an extended elaboration of story across many memories in many retellings.
Dense imagery, intense cascades of imagery, sometimes expressed in art and poetry, is a corrective, an antidote, to the dominance of narrative, the inherent flaws of narrative thinking. Perhaps this is what Werner Herzog is getting at when he bemoans the lack, and the danger of the lack, of “adequate imagery.”
We tend to be unaware–blind–to our cognitive limits; human culture, though capable of rapid change not directly tied to biological limits and not behaving in accord with biological limits–in effect blind to those limits–is nevertheless bounded in form and action in the sorts of recurrent changes dictated by biological and physical limits. The arc of the amoral universe is long, but it bends toward entropy.
When we become “masters of creation” we become the destroyers, not of creation, but of infrastructures of narrative in which we believe we thrive and count on to survive.