Can humans develop without imagination?

Turki Aldakhil
Turki Aldakhil
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It was a conversation on a flight returning to Dubai two years ago. I was exhausted and dreaming of a pillow as we boarded. Nothing would have changed my mind about a deep sleep, were it for the cover of a book that a passenger near me had.

The conversation would not have started if it hadn’t been for my curiosity that I first inherited from the media and secondly from my passion in books which people like to read in airplanes, airports and transportation services.

I happened to see some of these books in the best-seller reviews, which western periodicals publish and which are later translated into Arabic. Checking these reviews was like witnessing the market – with my usual curiosity – by reading or having a conversation with a friend who is also curious.

My conversation with the passenger next to me lasted the entire trip and I arrived home without sensing any boredom and I was still exhausted as I did not get to sleep for even one minute on the plane.

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I am fascinated by how smart people attract you with one sentence. Steven, who was the passenger next to me, had just finished reading the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

He congratulated me because it has been 113 years since the airplane was invented – that idea which was transporting us from London to Dubai within hours.

Steven added that the adjustable seat, which you incline on now because you are tired, is just another small detail created by another imagination. Then he turned around as the plane took off and asked: “What do we know about the history of humanity?”

The scientific revolution which prospered in Europe made the elite braver and more capable of acknowledging its ignorance

Turki Aldakhil

History of sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari divides the history of sapiens into four major parts, and he’s not the only one who has divided it as such.

He goes back to 70,000 B.C. and confirms that the most important moment in the history of mankind is the moment when our grandparents decided to use imagination as with it, man have managed to communicate to later organize himself, specify his needs and learnt how to attack other species using innovated fighting methods hence mankind dominated the top of the pyramid of species on the planet.

“Think about religions, legends, illusion, odors and colors. According to what we know, only sapiens – thanks to imagination – can strip all this information to use it in throughout their simple day and they alone can organize themselves in groups that believe in the imperceptible to transform it into ideas and doctrines. And they love, hate, fight, make friends and develop hostilities over them and for their sake”, Steven said.

Large number of people can co-exist and integrate after believing in a common legend or narrative. Do not ever underestimate masses when they adopt a specific narrative. History’s path in any part of the world can change just thanks to one complete story that the group adopts. The imagined reality is not a lie after the masses believe it!

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No one can end the reader’s passion in a book he just finished as even the hostess who brought dinner and gently smiled inspired Steven to talk about 10,000 B.C. noting that it’s a good time to shift the conversation from the topic about the moment when our grandparents began using their imagination to the moment when agricultural technologies synchronously spread throughout the world.

He was amazed that Harari repeated that this began in Africa and that people stopped hunting and transitioned to agriculture. Man’s tools became bigger so he became more stable and civilized and less brutal with other living things, of course since agriculture is a pure human act.

Another passenger joined the conversation. He smiled and said: “10,000 years ago, people were less private but they were not as lonely as they are today.”

After the agricultural revolution and the imagination’s enrichment of human knowledge, people began to ask more questions and the individual thus gradually transitioned from individualism to the group until the scientific revolution 1,500 years ago.

Common individualism

At this point, doubts shook the certain and at other times it led to the certain. Evidence and proof made people more doubtful and worried but they accomplished more and naturally individualism became more common even though they lived in large groups!

The scientific revolution which prospered in Europe made the elite braver and more capable of acknowledging its ignorance. The fruit of knowledge is modesty; hence, the elite became more capable of looking and searching for answers although they stopped viewing answers as final.

The second passenger who joined the conversation asked Steven about happiness and what the opinion of the author whom he’s defending his ideas is. The question came at the right time as we were halfway through and Steven had not yet made it to the 19th century during this conversation that deprived me from the chance to sleep.

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Steven did not hesitate to say that man’s happiness today – with all these inventions – is much more than before as the first humans did not have the luxury to write and document and there were no seats for happiness researches in the university of life before the 21st century.

Nothing interrupted Steven except the captain as he asked us to fasten our seatbelts because there was turbulence. I expected him to rest a little but intellectuals do not miss chances like this.

He fastened his seatbelt, turned to me and said: “Imagine that man only developed the idea of fearing the weather after he mastered agriculture!”

Man’s history is wondrous and its development is even more wondrous. If it hadn’t been for imagination, innovation and search, humans would not have been distinguished from the rest of the species.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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