The Range of Human Imagination

Analogies prove nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.

~ Sigmund Freud, from Introduction to Psychoanalysis

Excerpt from Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe by Martin Bojowold:

Once theory pushes forward to a possible understanding of the big bang and the remaining universe, the temptation to explain the emergence of the universe itself becomes overwhelming. Interpretations of theories and their mathematical solutions concerning entire worldviews indeed offer a high degree of fascination. But in too direct and supposedly generally valid an interpretation there lies, especially in this case, a great danger—not least because theories relevant for such questions will for all foreseeable time remain in their infancy. Physics is, after all, even if we disregard its big sister philosophy, not alone in this business. And yet a comparison of different worldviews offers a certain charm, and certainly some knowledge, too.

One should not underestimate myths and what they can teach us about ourselves and the progress we have made. Take the Summer Palace in modern Beijing, a beautiful sprawling park built as the summer retreat of Empress Dowager Cixi. On a small island in a man-made lake, facing the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Sea of Wisdom Temple on the slope of Longevity Hill which rises from the shore, stand the Hall of Embracing the Universe. It is a small, humble building in the style of its time, the fringes of its roof rising optimistically upward to aim at the sky. The Hall of Embracing the Universe tells us everything there is to know about humanity and the world: It was initially called the Hall of Watching the Moon Toad to honor its role in observing the moonrise; nowadays, the Hall of Embracing the Universe is a souvenir shop.

Hall of Embracing the Universe, completed in Emperor Qianlong's reign (1736-1795)

Surprisingly often, one can find parallels between ideas stemming from the most diverse traditions, an observation probably not hinting at an ember of truth but rather traceable back to the fact that the range of human imagination is despite its excesses, actually quite small.