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Lost Knowledge of the Imagination Paperback – January 15, 2018
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-- Philip Pullman
'[A] compact, erudite and thoughtful book.'
-- David Lorimer, Paradigm Exporer (Scientific and Medical Network journal)
'An excellent book -- scholarly but eminently readable by anyone seeking appreciation of the spiritual.'
-- Howard Jones, Alister Hardy Society
'One of the leading students of the western esoteric tradition, Lachman has published critical studies of Swedenborg, Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, Rudolf Steiner, P.D. Ouspensky and Jung -- and he has done so without being raptly worshipful or casually dismissive.'
-- Michael Dirda Washington Post
'Lachman...manages to make basic concepts in esoteric philosophy and history lively as well as readable.'
-- Kirkus Review
'Lachman creates a history of ideas that fascinates and excites'
-- New York Journal of Books
'The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination rejoins the parted Red Sea of modern intellect, demonstrating how rationalism and esotericism are not divided forces but necessary complements and parts of a whole in the human wish for understanding. Let's be done, once and for all, with the shallow and misdirected notion that reason and mysticism are at odds. Lachman demonstrates their harmony.'
-- Mitch Horowitz, PEN Award-winning author of Occult America and One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life
'Gary Lachman has done an impressive amount of research. His thesis is very carefully laid out and his conclusions are sensible and attractive.'
-- Magonia Review of Books
'I thought this was an excellent book -- scholarly but eminently readable for anyone seeking appreciation of the spiritual.'
-- De Numine, The Journal and Newsletter of the Alister Hardy Trust
'Gary Lachman is one of my favorite authors alive. Scholarly in his approaches to esoteric topics and historical figures, Lachman has blessed us with a deep crop of books... Thankfully, Lachman is here to emphasize the importance and power of the imagination, and the inner and outer worlds of the mind -- 4.5/5 stars'
From the Inside Flap
Imagination is a core aspect of being human. Our imagination allows us to fully experience ourselves in relation to the world and reality. Imagination plays a key role in creativity and innovation.
Since the seventeenth century, however, imagination has been sidelined and dismissed as 'make believe'. Four centuries ago, a new way of knowing the world and ourselves emerged in the west and has gone on to dominate human life: science. Imagination has been marginalised – depicted as a way of escaping reality, rather than coming to grips with it – and its significance to our humanity has been downplayed.
Yet as we move further into the strange new world of the twenty-first century, the need to regain this lost knowledge seems more necessary that ever before.
This insightful and inspiring book argues that, for the sake of the future of our world, we must redress the balance. Through the work of Owen Barfield, Goethe, Henry Corbin, Kathleen Raine, and others, and ranging from the teachings of ancient mystics to the latest developments in neuroscience, The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination introduces the reader to a philosophy and tradition that restores imagination to its rightful place, and argues that it is not only essential to our knowing reality to the full, but to our very humanity itself.
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I live in Puerto Rico and have worked as a psychiatrist for many years. I happened to be reading this book when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. I realized the need to further discuss the book with an experienced psychologist living outside the island (North Dakota). These discussions have been and are still today very helpful for understanding psychological transformative dynamics after catastrophic events.
Gary Lachman presents the controversial subject matter of imagination grounded on findings by Iain McGilchrist into the ways of the brain. Sounds contradictory? Yes, but just like McGillchrist contradictory hemispheres, it fits. Lachman continues an important comparison started by Colin Wilson in “Super Consciousness. The Quest for the Peak experience” so that if the grounding is Iain McGilchrist, the background is Colin Wilson and Lachman shows they are both a perfect match. That alone makes this book very interesting and important within the field of consciousness.
The first chapter covers historical evolution up to the present. The second chapter takes a deeper look at Owen Barfield’s concept (way) of participation, taking it Into chapter 3 with a discussion about “active seeing” within the context of the one encounter between Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Fredrick Schiller. Theoretically, this forces Corbin and an extraordinary blend of Carl Jung and Henry Corbin is offered in chapter four. Chapter five brings important insights about the subject matter as written by Kathleen Raine.
To further enrich the wisdom presented by Gary Lachman consider reading “The Master and it’s Emissary” by Iain McGilchrist, “Super Consciousness” by Colin Wilson and Lachman’s “Beyond the Robot-The Life and Work of Colin Wilson”. Henry Corbin’s writings on Jung edited by Michel Cazenave (“Autour de Jung, le bouddhisme et la Sophia” and “Acerca de Jung”) are also very helpful.
From various angles Gary Lachman traces the tension between the intuitive and rational, the figurative and the literal, which continually seeks a balance externally, but which has increasingly become heavily lopsided to the side of reductionist science (left brain) and a reliance on the sharp and bright light of analytical thinking.
"Banishing 'the vague' may seem like a good idea. Of course we want things to be clear, simple, and direct, and that is something the left brain, according to McGilchrist, is very good at making them. But too much clarity can obscure things as well as reveal them. The sun's light hides the stars. A 'perfectly clear conceptual model of reality, adapted to explain all phenomena by the simplest formula' sounds like the most 'cost efficient' way of explaining the world and ourselves. But efficiency isn't everything and 'the vague' for Cornford means the kinds of things amenable to Pascal's spirit of finesse, but not his spirit of geometry. It means values like beauty, freedom, love things that are important in a more than utilitarian way, whose importance is in themselves and not as a means to some practical or socially beneficial end. They are, as George Steiner calls them, 'the sovereignly useless'. They are not good for anything, however thinkers of a Darwinian slant may say they are. They give life meaning and are what make it worth living. When Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone, this is what he had in mind." (p. 23)
So what is this imagination we have neglected (and which popular culture all too casually dismisses as unreal and fanciful)?
"I take it from Colin Wilson, who in his own work explored the evolutionary potential of imagination. Imagination, he said, is 'the ability to grasp realities that are not immediately present". Not an escape from reality, or a substitute for it, but a deeper engagement with it. We could also say that imagination is simply our ability to grasp reality, or even, in some strange way, to create it, or at least to collaborate in its creation." (p. 31)
"We usually think of the imaginary as unreal, false - in general as some way less than the physical, sensory world. Or we see it as leading to 'novelty' or the 'cutting edge' in some process - this means technology most often today. But Corbin and Jung and others contend that for them - and potentially for all of us - the 'Imaginal' constitutes an entire world of its own, this is just as objective as the sensory world, with its own geography, history, laws, and, as Jung discovered, its own inhabitants." (p. 94)
"The truth of the world, Goethe maintains, is given immediately. Nature, for Goethe is not hidden, or if she is, it is in plain sight. Naked is the best disguise. Her secrets are manifest if we know how to look for them. 'Nature', Goethe once wrote, 'has neither kernel nor shell; she is everything at once'. As Heller writes: 'what is within and what is without are for Goethe merely poles of one and the same thing.' If this is so, then what is going inside the observer is at least as important as what is going on outside him, what, that is, he is observing. Our attitude toward what we are observing will determine what we see." (p. 66)
As seen in the passages quoted above, almost every page is densely packed with real insight and abundant cultural references (philosophic, religious, poetic and scientific) that give the reader plenty of food for thought and further avenues to pursue (an extensive "further reading" bibliography is included at the end). I especially appreciate how Lachman makes Iain McGilchrist's ("The Master and His Emissary") work on the complementary yet opposite functions of the two hemispheres of our brain foundational to his discussion. Such a synthetic world view of our lost knowledge of our intuitive roots, informed by modern scientific knowledge of our brain's physiology is one of those rare instances when the metaphorical and literal meet to enhance each other, giving us access to the essential key we've been holding all along.
Synthetic, poetic, inclusive, articulate, precise, suggestive, intuitive and playful; Gary Lachman's latest book embodies the balance of opposites - the very 'Goldilocks moment' of understanding - he writes about, inspiring us to find it in our own lives as well.