Imagined Realities, Part I: Monkey Spirit Mural, Kathmandu

          Here is my first street art! A painting in Kathmandu, Nepal. This is from a previous drawing of mine and a part of the World Spirits series. As I’ve been traveling I’ve been drawn to the fantastic array of statues and sculptures inhabiting the world, particularly places such as Bali and Nepal where vivid blends of Hinduism and Buddhism populate the environment with colorful characters traversing the emotional spectrum. Recently these various spirits have embodied new ideas as informed by Yuval Harari’s sweeping book Sapiens, and I learn more and more about the inestimable significance of our species’ ability to imagine things that do not exist, both as individuals and mass populations. These figures become salient actors, often with careers panning thousands of years, in the great dramas of our individual and collective powers of imagination. As key players in religion and/or mythology, they are iconic testaments to imagined realities.

               Regarding the advent of what he calls the Cognitive Revolution, occurring some 70,000 years ago, Harari illustrates some fundamental developments: “the truly unique feature of our language is not the ability to transmit information about lions and men. Rather, it is the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled. Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution.

            Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. Sapiens rule the world because we can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers...Sociological research has shown that the maximum ‘natural’ size of a group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals. How did Homo Sapiens cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. States are rooted in common national myths. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers that have never met can get together and defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights, money. Yet none of these things exist outside the common imagination of human beings. People easily understand that ‘primitives cement their social order by believing in ghosts and spirits. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis. The principal difference between us and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.”

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