When the panel investigating the September 11, 2001 attacks announced its conclusion that a “failure of imagination” prevented US officials from understanding the urgency of the al Qaeda threat, it seemed to exonerate everyone.
After all, imagination isn’t the first skill that comes to mind for job descriptions at the CIA, the FBI, and other protective agencies. Generally, these groups are depended on to rely on facts, not conjecture. And, while it might be a desirable attribute of individuals working in those fields, imagination is difficult to quantify and thus hard to judge.
And yet, with the large-scale consequences of the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, it would appear imagination belongs at the top of the “essential skills” list in support of homeland security—even more than sharper surveillance procedures, better dissemination of information and increased inter-departmental cooperation. Useful as these are, true security needs more than this. It requires the ability to detect a variety of meaningful patterns in an ocean of seemingly chaotic data—the essence of imagination.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Einstein. The good news is that no one person or group has a monopoly on imagination—it’s available to all. Imagination is a form of intelligence, the highest and most distinctive trait of humanity. Spiritually viewed, we are each the emanation of the supreme intelligence of the universe, also known as the divine Mind, or God. Intelligence and imagination are gifts to us from this one infinite Mind, whose very thoughts shape reality.
How can these traits be cultivated and enhanced?
This view is described and explained by Mary Baker Eddy in her comprehensive treatise on metaphysics, Science and Health, the book that guides this Web site. In this work she radically defines “man” as the pure product of divine being: “Immortal man was and is God’s image or idea, even the infinite expression of infinite Mind…”
As such, this innate ability to discern between good and evil needs only to be raised to greater prominence in the thoughts and affairs of men and women everywhere. When it is, people become more insightful and exhibit the highest form of humanity. As Eddy says, “It raises the thinker into his native air of insight and perspicacity”—the latter another word for acuteness of perception.
So how can these traits be cultivated and enhanced, not only to protect society from hidden dangers but to promote problem solving and enhancing the quality of life? Is it necessary to send the population to “imagination school?”
Well, yes and no. The kind of imagination that deserves to be cultivated is innate in everyone. And it comes with a focus on goodness, which is a safeguard against unwise flights of fancy. Imagination training can be found in the quiet precincts of prayer.
Perhaps the major reason why this refined intelligence sometimes seems diminished or inactive is ignorance of its presence, or of the method for bringing it into greater prominence. The theory, for instance, that humanity is made up of flawed creatures careening helplessly through a fog of conflicting drives and emotions turns attention away from the spiritual fact of our native intelligence and makes us prey to fear and bad judgment. For example, imagination uncontrolled by wisdom can be as dangerous as ignorance. It can lead to paranoia at one extreme and delusion at the other. This kind of “imagining the worst” does no one any good.
But when imagination is fueled by inspiration, the opposite occurs. The best kind of imagination training can be found in the quiet precincts of prayer. In this “secret place,” as the Bible describes it, the thrashings of conflicting thoughts and fears settle down and the searching heart discerns the presence and support of the divine Mind. Thought acquires a holy tone and this freshened “insight and perspicacity” leads to the kind of practical intelligence essential to wise decision-making.
Another benefit of silent, innermost prayer is that the individual conviction gained about the omnipresence of divine intelligence radiates out to include all who are seeking wisdom. It affirms each person’s innate, divinely-sourced intelligence and sharpens their detection of evil, thus enabling good to prosper.
A nation praying for its own—and everyone’s—safety multiplies this awakening effect. With subtlety being terrorism’s main mode of operation, a citizenry united in energizing its own native intelligence can help prevent a “failure of imagination” and its dire consequences—and increase the security of the entire world.