“Fantasy is freedom. It is a way to express what we are afraid to say. It is a world, place, and mindset without boundaries, restrictions, rules or guidelines. Fantasy makes possible what seems to be impossible, and it can motivate us to achieve a better self, a better consciousness, and a better world. We are in constant pursuit to make our dreams a reality, to put mythology into action. As we struggle to make things real, myths of hope and faith force us to continue when all seems bleak. Fairy Tales give us something to reach for and prevent us from settling on mundane disappointments. Fantasy can make us heroes performing great deeds, ground breakers who achieve the impossible, and survivors who overcome formidable barriers. Our fantasy and dreams truly make us who we are because reality oftentimes prevents self-actualization. Our ability to fantasize is what makes us truly real.”
This lesson will address the relationship between imagination and reality, and explore the role of fantasy in the Humanities.
Fantasy Lesson Objectives:
- Recognize elements of fantasy in reality
- Identify the role of fantasy in shaping and constructing the Humanities
- Formulate a perspective on the relationship between fantasy and reality.
Fantasy and Imagination
Imagination is a uniquely human ability through intentional dreaming to create new ideas, images or concepts that are not present to awareness or the senses. It involves a set of cognitive processes as a means of creating something from within ourselves, and this enables people to create alternative realities and scenarios that not only include fantastical creatures and magical worlds, but it also allows people to plan for the future and set goals, engage in hypothetical reasoning, invent and innovate, develop symbols and meanings, design new things, maintain hope, keep faith, and develop the drive to work towards a better world.
Fantasy comes from the act of imagining things. It originates from our creative imagination and the cognitive process of creating unrealistic or improbable mental images or ideas. Fantasy is oftentimes a response to a psychological need; to innovate and invent, to escape, to enhance, and/or to play. There are conscious and subconscious fantasies, and both types of fantasy articulate with reality. The Humanities is the vehicle in which humans can bring fantasy into reality. For thousands of years, artists have produced elaborate representations of imaginative things, places and scenarios. The 20,000 year old cave paintings of Lascaux in France are one of the most famous prehistoric renditions of life and fantasy that includes a wide range of creatures and humans and the day to day activities of living in the paleolithic era. (To learn more about the cave paintings in Lascaux, click here.) Prehistoric cave paintings are the precursor to contemporary depictions of daily life communicated through art, song, film, poetry, literature, and dance created by modern humans today.
Dreaming and our Imagination
Dreams are the link between our intentional conscious imagination and our unintentional sub-conscious thought processes such as imaging, emotions, sensations, and ideas. Dreaming most often occurs during sleep when brain activity is high during a period called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The average person has three to five dreams per night, and each dream may last from a few seconds to more than 30 minutes. (To learn more about dreaming, click here). Dreaming is not only linked to the human imagination, it has captured the human imagination as people have struggled to understand the meaning and purpose of dreams for the dreamer as well as society. Dreams can represent premonitions about the future, alternative realities, symbolic meanings, and hidden fears or fantasies. The following video explores scientific approaches to the role of dreaming.
Collective Conscious & Imagination
The Collective Conscience is a term coined by 20th century psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, to refer to structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species. According to Jung, the human collective unconscious is populated by an interaction between primitive instinct and by archetypes, or universal symbols that are shared through subconscious connections. Archetypes are considered universal by Jung because they are repetitive through history and across cultures, and Jung argues that they must therefore emerge from a collective consciousness that connects humans through a shared human psyche. Archetypes include the Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, the Tree of Life, the Golden Rule, and many more. Jung argued that the collective unconscious influenced individuals who live out universal symbols and meanings through personal experiences. The psychotherapeutic practice of Jungian psychology revolves around examining a person’s relationship to the collective unconscious. This includes the interpretation of dreams among other things. Jungian theorists also believe that we can develop a deeper understanding of societies and civilizations by examining archetypical myths, stories and legends that communicate the unique perspectives of a culture while reinforcing that cultures connectivity to the universal human experience.
A myth is a story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical and explaining the origins of a cultural practice or a natural phenomenon. Myths may be a sacred story that communicates religious or spiritual significance for those who share it; a traditional narrative passed down through generations that communicates life lessons or a cultures systems of thought and values; a tale about divinity; or an explanation as to why something (ie suffering) exists. Myths oftentimes involve symbols with multiple meanings as well as archetypical beings such as gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, or particular animals and plants. Monomyths are archetypical myths that repeat throughout history and across cultures such as creation stories that narrate how the world or a people came into existence.
An American mythological researcher, Joseph Campbell, wrote a famous book entitled, The Power of Myth, which illuminates the significant role of myths and mythology in humanity. His subsequent book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, identified common patterns running through hero myths and stories throughout histories and across cultures. Through comparative analysis, Campbell outlined several basic stages included in nearly every hero-quest mythology which her refers to as “The Hero’s Journey.”
Fantasy in the Humanities
The Humanities provide a platform for the imaginative expression of ideas and concepts as artists and performers are able to bring fantasy from the imagination of the mind into the world for the audience to share. Humans communicate fantasy and imagination through mediums such as literature, art, song, philosophy, design, religion, history, and the use of symbols with deep meanings. By understanding the ways humans use the Humanities to communicate deep and profound meanings and experiences, we can develop a better understanding of the complex experiences shares by people through time and across cultures.
- Laetz, Brian and Joshua Johnston. 2008. “What is Fantasy?” Philosophy and Literature. Volumn 2, April (161-172)
- Imagination and Film, University of Chicago
- ‘Imagination’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
For Online Discussion: Use terms and concepts from this lesson to compose a 250-word response to the questions; What is the relationship between fantasy and reality? In what ways does fantasy and imagination help us shape and construct our reality? Do you spend more of your day in fantasy or in reality, and how do you differentiate the two? Create a representation of the relationship between fantasy and reality, take a picture and include it with your essay.
Here is an example of a collage I made; I included Frederick Douglas and M.L. King’s Dream with an image of Obama to show how the visions of the past can shape the future. I included images for love/lust to show desire, as well as aristocracy to show ambition. The water buffalo represent my goal to own a herd (and I finally got one!) as well as the Chinese proverb about doing what others say is not possible.