Summer Study Part 3 – Imagined Reality

This blog continues sharing insights from my last summer reading program. (see blog posts one and two here).  This blog post focuses on my insights into the fascinating concept of Imagined Reality.

The Cognitive Revolution in humankind could be considered the defining moment for our species. The behavior of all other animals has been determined by their DNA, their environment, and genetic mutations over time to adapt to environment (the concept of Evolutionary Biology). Human evolution has been driven not by DNA mutation but via cognition and use of cognition for environmental adaptation and advances in human productivity.

The Cognitive Revolution in humankind created the ability to think and communicate ideas with the nuance of language, the ability to gossip for social cooperation, and to talk about things that don’t exist.  The ability to have collective stories and common myths formed a collective imagination- the idea of an Imagined Reality.  These invented stories (Imagined Reality) became shared beliefs and truths.

Imagined Realities, stories or myths created from nothing, included the creation of gods, laws/doctrines, and other imagined concepts (like the concept of money).  It began the formation of social stratification – social stories to support creation of castes/hierarchies and who has power, who should not have power.  These created stories and myths established moral codes and correct behaviors for social order and hierarchy.  Behaviors were then maintained through the establishment of customs and both formal and informal justice systems (social punishment, laws, oppression, exploitation).

There is a curious aside question for me – was the Cognitive Revolution (possibly the most significant step of humankind evolution) the act of a Divine Being or merely a biological mutation?  Most religions assert that we (humans) are ordained by an absolute, supreme, or divine authority and then the religion creates doctrines (imagined realities) that align with that divine authority which establish moral codes of behaviors to ensure social stability.

Imagined Realities become cultural forces/theologies – believing some things are “against nature” (forbidden, sins) or one type of human is superior to another, when in fact nature & biology have nothing to do with it. Racist myths can become so much part of a shared Imagined Reality that they can persist with legislation and embedded social customs, which create and support on-going cycles of oppression.

There are other fascinating rhetorical questions about Imagined Realities. The patriarchal system is not based on biological factors, so why has this Imagined Reality been so universal and stable? Why in a species that depends on cooperation for survival is the biologically less cooperative gender dominating in myths and cultures (masculine traits valued more than feminine traits)? And even, how can Imagined Realities, invented stories that have turned into established truths, be changed?

To change a shared Imagined Reality requires an ideological movement, a religious cult (new sect), or a significant political event, and then the establishment of a NEW shared imagined order. There have been some shifts in Imagined Realities. One in particular is the Puritan beliefs (luxuries are not needed, don’t waste things, hard work focus, reuse and repair) shifting to the beliefs of Consumerism (treat oneself, indulgence is good, reckless consumption, more is better, toss and buy).  In the late 20th Century, shopping became a hobby, a normal activity to pass the time; holidays became shopping festivals; and many products are now designed with a short term usage period planned (buy the next upgraded version or next season’s color).A definite shift in beliefs and behaviors associated with them.

The concept of Imagined Reality is fascinating to me and helpful when considering how to identify and shift my personal belief systems. It is all about the stories we tell ourselves, and often those stories are embedded in our cultural or religions beliefs and truths.

And, pulling it back into Retirement Transition, I do think the Imagined Reality of what retirement is about is slowly shifting. There is still often a fear among many of those entering this life stage of boredom, invisibility, isolation, or shame for a lack of productivity. How long I wonder until there is a new broadly shared Imagined Reality about what retirement in the 21st century is really like?

Picture: the finalization of my bottle project – centerpieces for our local Wine Festival

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5 thoughts on “Summer Study Part 3 – Imagined Reality

  1. It’s good to be reminded that much of what is perceived as reality or is accepted as normal really comes down to an imagined reality. It’s important to re-examine our stories and shift our perspectives.

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  2. Reading some of this I must ponder (our human ability) if we are indeed the “best” species if we make decisions and create society “rules” based on an imagined reality. Would we be better off if we used nature – allowing things to work as they would as nature would intend. And then that opened a whole Pandora’s box of what society would look like (making up my own imagined reality for a few moments).
    But onward to the thought at hand. I believe (perhaps because I’m retired and my imagined reality on this wants good things) that as we as a society are living longer we are becoming more comfortable with retirement and the idea of enjoying retirement as oppose to thinking retirement is just getting old and then dying. I’m thinking of those commercials about having enough money to retire and do whatever it is the person wants to do. If you notice in those commercials they don’t talk about giving the money to your kids for a house or leaving it when you die. They talk about retiring to the beach and buying that house you want (like some people I know). Some talk about starting that business you always wanted, you know that quaint little place that sells something darling but is never going to be profitable. Or some talk about taking up that hobby that you’ve always wanted to pursue but didn’t have enough time for, like ballroom dancing. Anyway, where I was going with this, is that commercials are driven by what people want to see, how whatever is in the commercial is going to make their lives so much better and so I propose that if indeed these ideas are used in commercials they must be becoming what is looked upon as good. Did any of that make sense? That’s just one tiny indication that retirement is getting a better reputation.
    Now I could go on to say that I believe (again my own imagined reality) that some of those not so fun ideas about retirement are still holding true. In my reality, I feel that invisibility is indeed still a thing. I find that mostly no one seems to care about my opinion nor much see me anymore – that in general I’m not important or don’t really count – and I totally believe that is because I no longer have my career. There are societies that honor their elderly much more than ours and I hope that we will adopt those views.
    I could go on and on but I will leave it here. Thanks for the food for a tremendous amount of thought on my part.

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    1. Candyse, As I don’t watch TV hardly at all, I have not seen the commercials you’re mentioning… but I love that they are showing a view of retirement as it really is these days.

      I’ve realized that I’m not experiencing being invisible as I’ve gotten involved in groups that are mostly older women – and they are happy I’m eager to join in and do / lead things . Or maybe it’s Florida where there are so many older folk? Or maybe it’s just I’m quite happy in my own little world right now…not trying to push my opinions on anyone. I’m sorry you’re still experiencing the invisibility because I know it’s hurtful.

      Being aware of the stories I tell myself, especially if they are based on cultural /societal influences, is helpful for me to shift my thinking into a more positive space. But I’m also becoming a big fan of “it is what it is” acceptance.

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  3. Wow Pat – this is way above my pay grade for deep thinking! Although I’m probably pretty good with imagined reality with all the over-thinking I do! I’m always fascinated by the stuff you research and follow up on – it fires up the embers of some of my brain cells 🙂

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    1. Leanne, this topic was fascinating to me….maybe because I like to think about thinking! But it really does help me to put into perspective the stores we tell ourselves about ourselves, our situation… being just made-up stories. Change the story, change your perspective!

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