Who would believe that Norwegian Author Jostein Gaarder (born in 1952) wrote a children’s book entitled ‘Hello? Is Anybody there?’
I know that many will be angry at me for ignoring Sophie’s World and The Orange Girl that was published in 2003 but I would say to them that the Norwegians did not appreciate Gaarder like he deserves until he published the novel The Solitaire Mystery. What’s intended is to address the author’s bravery in addressing younger readers. Who knows, perhaps Gaarder is one of those who believe in the capability of the child’s imagination to fly high and exceed that of older people. This is my point today. What makes Jostein Gaarder believe in the child’s capability to comprehend the theory of evolution and earth’s history and even access the world of the secrets of life at such an early stage?
While many in industrial societies line up to buy cinema tickets to watch a sci-fi movie with their children, the societies that still rely on collective memory teach a poem or a story that strengthens their integration in their groups.
The father who is standing in line to buy tickets and watch a sci-fi movie thinks that his son’s or daughter’s imagination is being trained to understand the future while in the second scene, the father is repeating the poem to his son as this is how he guarantees that the poem, or the story, maintains its value so his son understands what is going on when, for example, others laugh!
I notice – and I may be wrong – that the efforts which our Arab societies spend ruminating about the past and referring to a certain story but not the other prevent us from thinking enough about the future hence preparing for itTurki Aldakhil
The power of imagination
I believe in the power of the imagination and call for training it no matter what the means is. I also still believe in the power of poetry and novels to overcome the bitterness of reality and also, understand it and in their necessity to move forward in life. However, I notice – and I may be wrong – that the efforts which our Arab societies spend ruminating about the past and referring to a certain story but not the other prevent us from thinking enough about the future hence preparing for it.
I am not a supporter of Edison (1847-1931) who was biased to the imagination and initially assumed the presence of knowledge when he said: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Oh Mr. Edison, we have so much junk in our countries and such little inventions!
The dear readers can notice I am biased to the imagination when a few months ago I wrote about Yuval Noah Harari and his narrative of the brief history of mankind. Today, however, I will refer to the generation of authors who tried to adapt science to serve literature. For example, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man are works whose influence we understand even on our daily lives but what many do not know is that they were written between 1895 and 1900. What’s more interesting is that their author Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) entitled a collection which included two other works, The Scientific Romances.
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This approach was not unique to Wells as before him there was German astrologer Johannes Kepler who died in 1630. Kepler discovered that the planet has orbits. He did not relay this in a published scientific research but in his famous story Somnium in which the story’s protagonist travels to the moon. Kepler who has the imagination of an author and the vision of an astrologer thus describes everything on the moon even the cold emptiness on the surface of this neighbor that has never gone to sleep. Kepler wrote this story before America and the Soviet Union raced to land on the moon – a landing, which was mere imagination in the 17th century.
Some critics have criticized Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) saying that the public must not be left with him as he is “an unstable man sitting in a dim room, with a raven over his door, a bottle at his table and a pipe full of opium,” but even those who really hated his reckless and absurd lifestyle cannot underestimate his exquisite imagination when he wrote about the future in The Balloon-Hoax. I actually now reprimand Poe for his extreme modesty when he imagined balloons over the Atlantic racing after 10 centuries since his days with a speed that exceeds 100 miles per hour. Truth is this actually happened in the century after he died intoxicated in the alleys of Baltimore.
Apart from all this, I can say that the speed technology has thanks to the brave imagination of inventors today managed to add the feature of simulating humans’ characteristics of knowledge such as adding voices to computers which the pessimists – and unfortunately they are right most of the time – believe will leave us humans jobless in the near future. Integrating human characteristics in the surrounding technology is only a step towards even madder and more extreme researches.
Two months ago, I read that “awareness” is the next subject after humans finished with simulation and that robots will cancel man’s need for men. You can now access Amazon stores and finalize everything without meeting a single human being. You can also schedule your smart electric sweeper via a watch on your wrist to clean your home two hours before you return from work. However, this may seem normal. And if we expand this imagination, we imagine robots fighting wars and planning to get rid of the creature which once expanded his imagination until he managed to understand himself via his poetry and works of fiction, and then gifted awareness to his murderer!
As we approach the beginning of a new year, train your imagination so tomorrow brings what is good to everyone. Pray with me that sci-fi research does not reach a stage when robots attack us and send us a message that reads: Hello, is anybody there?
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 Alarabiya.net, 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.