CARTA: Imagination: Maurice Bloch-Human Society as a Consequence of Human Imagination


(soft piano music) – [Narrator] We are the paradoxical ape. Bipedal. Naked. Large-brained. Long the master of fire,
tools, and language, but still trying to understand ourselves. Aware that death is inevitable. Yet, filled with optimism, we grow up slowly. We hand down knowledge. We empathize and deceive. We shape the future from our shared understanding of the past. CARTA brings together experts
from diverse disciplines to exchange insights on who
we are and how we got here. An exploration made possible by the generosity of humans like you. (upbeat music) Thank you very much. What I want to talk
about is dealing with the organization of human society and the nature of human society. And I believe that if we think of it in general evolutionary terms, we see that the organization
of human society is really quite different to that of our nearest primate
cousins, the chimpanzees. I think that manifest the
results of the difference are clear and they’re two. One of them is that we are
able to build up societies at far greater size than we find in the other close primates,
and greater complexity. And the second one is that we think of
our social organization as lasting far, far longer than the life of the people who might be part of that society. I believe that both these differences are due to the fact that many aspects of human
society are imaginary. And therefore I’m going to
start to look at imagination in the certain art of detail. The notion of imagination
isn’t very often linked with creativity and quite rightly. And it is also linked
with individual creation. That’s not what I’ll be talking about. I’ll be talking about
something quite different. Which is shared imagination. How the same imaginary features
are shared within a group. And how that comes back is
due to a number of factors, but I think already if we
remember the slide we’ve seen about pretend pay, we can
see that both there seems to be a general predispositions
in humans for pretend play. But that pretend play gets
slot-in with things which are instituted within the
culture and the society of people who are doing this pretend play. So I think we have to
think of predispositions enabling us to take on
historically created structures. Like schools was obvious
in the last picture in that series about pretend playing. We have to think of this
articulation between the two kinds of things. How, as I was saying,
how is articulates… So, what I’ll be talking
about is not individual imagination, though
obviously it’s involved, but the sharing of imagination. And let me go back to
what I started off with, saying that there are many aspects of human social organization
which have to be imaginary. First factor of this I want to talk about is the notions of the groups
we often think we belong to. Let me start off with
the examples of clans, which we find in various
forms in many human societies. Now, one of the interesting
things about humans, about clans, is that they’re
thought of as lost in time far longer than the
life-span of individuals. That already means that
they have to be imaginary because obviously if they were
attached to the individuals they would sort of end or
have no great continuity. But this would also be true of nations. For example, one can think
of the Greeks as a nation, quite apart from their
territory, having gone on for very, very long periods
in time the Greeks continued, they passed on from one
another something called… a vague Greekishness that
is very difficult to define what that might be and
very interesting, it is difficult even for the
people who think this is extremely important to define it. So, again we imagine, and
I think I can use the word, that there is a level, a twitch, a social continues on quite a different time-scale than the life, our biological life. That doesn’t mean… And there is another factor
which is even more important. We continually think of as an important part of our society is that we have instituted roles. Husband, a wife, to use an example which was used by the philosopher Searle. But policemen, and so on. Now, there is something
rather odd about these roles. Because they can’t, they
don’t seem to have very little to do with what people actually get up to. People may hate each other,
husbands and wives may hate each other, but we think
there is something about being husband and wife
independently of this. So, if we think of our
society as systems of roles, as a large number of roles, we realize we have to
think on another level, on an imaginary level. Other than the
interactions, which has been the greatest focus in
psychology when people are thinking of the social. We have to think of how it is
possible that these systems, that they’re shared systems of the social, which don’t correspond
to anything empirical. I should’ve mentioned that
when I was talking about clans, that clans, you know, if
people can imagine themselves as belonging to clans
without anything obvious marking them out from people
who belong to other clans, that they usually do not live together, that they’re dispersed,
it’s somehow there is a level, an imaginary
level that which people can think of themselves as one. So, this is really presents… This is something which we do not find in any other primates. This is why I would argue
that we should stop thinking of human society as a sort
of incremental business of getting better and better
at knowing other people and knowing the world. There is also a discontinuity
which I would identify with the presence of that imagination. Having said that, however,
this presents a problem. How, with what I started
off with talking about, which is I was saying
something very different about human societies is that
they seem to be able to be expanded to
extraordinarily large size in a way that doesn’t
apply to other primates. And that there’s also this idea of them continuing in time. Of course, this is not
a problem if by society we mean these imaginary representations that I was talking about. They can be as large as you like. Or as and, indeed,
their systems, which are not tied to particular moments. But I was talking about practical results. How can this imaginary level
have practical results? Which are tremendously
important if we want to understand the
evolution of human society. I think we answer comes from the fact that this imaginary level is not as imaginary as it might seem at first. There are what I’ve called emergences. That is moments when
the shared imagination is actually acted out, where people can live in
the shared imagination as well as they live in the
practical, interactional world which is normal, sort
of every day leveled. These are very largely
rituals which involve people losing many of
the aspects of themselves as individuals in that what characterizes rituals is their
repetitions of previous… People say the same things
other people have said. They, therefore, lose
their intentionality. They become kind of elements
in an abstract structure, but it is acted out. And at other moments… In normal life, or in
normal traditional life, people step in and out
of the imaginary level to an interactional level, and they’re able to hold
two quite different ways of thinking about society. This is what is not
found in other primates. And this has practical results. For example, if you
imagine yourself living in a pre-Neolithic village
and you want to set up another… to move to another village, you have to move to this imaginary level in order to be able to build
up kinship relationships with other people, people
in that other village. Convince them somehow
that there is something in common and that is
moving to another level, to that imaginary level. And then you can move
to that sort of place. This, I think, explains
how pre-ape humans managed to have very far-reaching and distant trading relationships. And, also, to the other practical level, to the other practical
factor, which is imagining that your society lost in time, that somehow we imagine
that we have a social which lasts in time quite independently of our biological life. It means that there is some point in… First of all, in passing
on, and accumulating either objects because
we are passing them on to people that we don’t know
with who are our continuation but only in imagination. And, perhaps, passing
on knowledge which then becomes the basis of what
the evolutionary biologist Michael Thomas Seller has
called the wretched effect that is building up on knowledge which is already there so that it can be then be used for evermore complex systems. This is the basically the
ability in human culture to continue and to
accumulate and to advance. So the possibility of
stepping in to moments of what is normally shared imagination explains, I think, the most
fundamental differences between our society and the society of, as I said, the chimpanzees. Thank you. (audience applauding) (peaceful music)

2 thoughts on “CARTA: Imagination: Maurice Bloch-Human Society as a Consequence of Human Imagination

  1. Pro Illegal Immigration babaling. Selling breaking the law. Selling no historical accomplishments. Total childish B.S.

  2. My thanks to Maurice Bloch and his sharing of his perspectives about the role of Imagination in social structures.

    I had never heard of, or considered, "Imagination" being a shared and social trait beyond the Individual. This is a pleasant thought for me. And this helps me to see where Imagination can be adopted into a New Tribal design…which is very valuable where there is no apparent precedent for New Ideas that are intended to make a New Social Structure be an improvement over some earlier ones.

    Of course, I assume that Individual Imagination is the building block of "Shared Imagination".

    And the "Shared Imagination", that Maurice Bloch is referring to, begins to happen when an Individual actually shares a bit of Imagination with another Individual.

    I suppose the "Evolutionary State" of a particular group, has a lot to do with "Shared Imagination's" inclusion into a culture.
    I'm sure I will derive even more benefit from this presentation, as I watch it a few more times.

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