Homo imaginans: The Imagining Earth

Steam lifted like strange dreams from the bubbling ground. Small vents gurgled and thumped. A funnel-shaped, blue pool hissed with heat. Florescent minerals made colorful mosaics between vaporous holes and hot streams. Some of the orifices belched mud. Bison and elk tracks pressed into the pale formations of the geyser basin. No one can believe such a place exists. Dreamlike. Hell-like. Imagination gone amok.

For me, a place of pilgrimage. The heart of the world. This time, I had arrived by water. The red canoe was pulled up on the white gravelly shore. It was a two-day journey in grizzly country. Grizzlies in the field tilted consciousness in a wilder direction. Anything was possible. All psychic defenses were breached even though I carried bear spray on a hip holster. All senses were wide open, alert for movement, scent, sound. Amidst the sulfurous geyser odor, the music of steam pipes and bellowing vents, and the terrifying beauty of boiling pools the color of tropical water, the primal world skewered any rote thinking I had brought from my everyday life. The nature of ‘reality’ felt unsteady, viscerally elastic with the molten heart of Earth churning beneath my feet, emitting belches and prolonged susurrations.

Ordinary ideas, ordinary resentments, ordinary hopes toppled absurdly amidst such Earthly spectacle. How could I wander in such a place and not wonder what the world is about, or what human life is about? Whatever commerce and industry human beings had invented was built on top of this, which seemed laughably incoherent as well as tragic. Surely, we were not meant to be stock traders or weapons dealers.

Cloud shadows danced over the kaleidoscopic geyser basin while ribbons of steam bent with the breezes. Earth ventricles and organ pipes sang and thudded an ancient rhythm that amplified the animal rhythm of my body and rattled loose the cages of perception until it seemed a larger-than-human intelligence was near. In the wild psyche of the geyser basin, listening to the deep, old mind of Earth, I was startled by an apprehension that seemed not my own, or not only my own. Perhaps the impression formed in the field between us—like information passing through a system—suggesting that human possibility is still erupting with emerging new modes of consciousness. I imaged, or heard, the phrase Homo imaginans. Of course, this was something more akin to embodied intuition or felt sense than conceptual knowing—rather like catching geyser steam.

Who could say with certainty where or how this impression originated? Although questions about the mystery of human imagination had accompanied me for a long time, Homo imaginans was not something I worked out at a desk. The image seemed to suggest an evolutionary, multivalent, imaginative, participating mode of human consciousness as fantastic as the expressions of the wild Earth in a geothermal basin.

When my companion and I left the geyser basin for the long, meditative paddle to our backcountry campsite, it occurred to my etymologically-curious mind that homo shares ancient roots with humus, soil, and earth. Thus, Homo imaginans might not only suggest an emergent mode of human consciousness but also the imagining Earth. Right here, She was imagining fumaroles, geysers and grizzlies, a big lake billowing with waves and whitecaps, human beings paddling deeper into wonder with no chance of return.

The world-transforming potential of the intentional human imagination is yet uncharted. To know that we imagine, to be aware that all of our human ventures have arisen first in imagination, and—especially—to bring consciousness to the images we hold, to the images that arise, to the images we propagate is entirely new in the evolution of human beings and perhaps a new form of consciousness. Everything we create is born in imagination. Shall we squander such a regenerative gift only on new apps and forms of social media?

With imagination, the world becomes, once again, alive and enchanted. With imagination, we can envision (and create) alternate futures. With imagination, we can collaborate with the intelligence of an animate, imagining Earth. And it may be that, with conscious engagement of imagination, we cooperate with the great mystery of evolution itself.