Today I would like to comment some on a quotation from page 34 of a book I am reading titled The Stress Of Life, a quote that deals particularly with the scientific world but has a lot of applicability outside of that sphere: “A purely technical description of a discovery is based on measurable intellectual values alone; yet in actual life science is far from being purely a subject of conscious thought. Indeed, I think that as a rule the greater the scientific creation, the more it is conceived by instinct and emotions. To make a great dream come true, the first requirement is a great capacity to dream; the second is persistence–a faith in the dream. The much glorified quality of intelligence is so much more common, among people likely to pursue scientific dreams, that it rarely represents the major bottleneck in making discoveries.”
What does this saying mean? We are used to thinking of science as a rational endeavor. This is in large part due to the fact that scientists wish for themselves, and their own worldviews, to be seen as purely rational. This is not strictly a modern phenomenon, but has been present for centuries as science has sought a great deal of cultural legitimacy on its own that properly resides in spheres such as philosophy and theology, upon which the worldviews of science depend. Part of the rise of scientific credibility in the general world, a rise that has not been wholly deserved, has been built on intellectually dishonest ground, a pretension to a rationality that is not in actuality possessed by those engaged in the scientific endeavors. Yet to admit the role of emotion and intuition is to admit the fact that the heart has a vital role in the scientific endeavor, making it fallible and subject to ordinary human biases and weaknesses.
I am very familiar, for better or worse, with the quality of having a capacity to dream. In order to change reality we must first be able to see the present reality or present understanding as merely one possibility among many. This is both a very good quality and potentially a very scary one as well. Some dreams are pleasant fantasies that are unrealistic because they depend on matters out of our control that will not come to pass. Other dreams are useful not because we expect to complete them, but because they allow us to see possibilities for the better and the worse, and take action either to counteract threats or or to put in place one’s desires. It is the power of a dream that allows us to keep going through discouragement, to give us the encouragement we need to keep going, and it is our persistence that allows us to reach the desired end of a dream, whether that dream is a good one or not.
Why is a capacity to dream so big so rare? For one, we tend to assume that the way that the world is is the only way it can be. It is rare to imagine a world that is entirely different from our own. This quality is not always a noble one, for the world’s fanatics as a whole have had this ability to visualize different realities, some of which (the Nazi or Communist reality) were horrific realities ending in the deaths of tens of millions of people all more righteous than the people who possessed those dark dreams. On the more positive side, some dreams, of greater justice in this world, are dreams that fire the imaginations of people with some sort of nobility. A great capacity to dream, if those dreams are to help humanity, must be combined with a nobility of character that is also rare in humanity, sadly, and also the ability to convey and communicate that dream so that it fires the imaginations of others who are necessary to help bring those dreams into reality. Let us hope that if we do not have that capacity to dream on our own, that we can at least appreciate the dreams of others.