Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.
I write a good deal of non-fiction because I enjoy the accompanying research, cerebration and discovery. My examination of reality, furnishes my mind. Yet I love writing fantasy fiction and poetry as well for they too for me, are both diversions from reality and also extensions of it.
Fantasy allows me to explore the human condition and the political condition in farcical and exaggerated forms, and in doing so, I often gets closer to the so-called truth. Under the guise of humor, I can make serious observations. Fantasy can be imaginative escape that makes sense. (THE WORLD OF GLIMPSE)
I recently interviewed British-born palaeobotanist Professor John Anderson, with whom I have had a number of very enjoyable blog-conversations – verbal banter really, verging on the fantastical. Here are two examples of our playful synnovations:
LET’S SYNNOVATE: CREATIVITY AND SCIENCE
PENGUIN PATTER: A SCIENTIST AND A FANTASIST IN CONVERSATION
John Anderson’s fossil flora discoveries together with Heidi Anderson, represent the fountainhead of the flowering plant – angiosperms – in the Late Triassic Molteno Formation some 220 million years ago. This work has been seminal. John Anderson’s collaborative ongoing Gondwana Alive Project has been endorsed by global leaders in many fields such as Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, The Dalai Lama, David Attenborough, Prince Charles, Jane Goodall, Edward O. Wilson and others.
In the interview I did of John recently, a reader will encounter in one individual, the embodiment of both the scientific and the creative mind because John Anderson, the dedicated scientist and protector of our planet, has also the gift of a free-flowing, marvelously playful linguistic ability:
Ellen: When you think about the time of the earliest dinosaurs and mammals, what kind of visual images do you conjure up in your mind or are the images more in line with diagrammatic representations you have studied? I presume that visually, you take an imaginative leap back into a very distant past and move in. If so, how real and imprinted has your visualizations of that period become in your mind?
John: As if walking about in the wilderness today – that’s certainly the best way of visualizing the Karoo landscape some 220 million years ago at the time of the Molteno flora, home to those earliest of dinosaur and mammal populations. So very different was the Karoo back then with its braided and meandering rivers crisscrossing a vast, temperate, wooded inland floodplain. The Karoo in those distant days was at the heart of the Gondwanaland Supercontinent before it split up and drifted apart. This photograph below taken of Hadedas in 2017 at The Amphitheatre, is a reminder of the dinosaurs.
Ellen: Any particular difference you would like to discuss?
John: One wonderful difference between one’s image of those distant pristine days and now: then there were no streaming lines of trucks and cars, no high-powered lines, no fences holding back herds of sheep and cattle. There was none of the paraphernalia of modern Homo sapiens. No hint of the most contradictory species ever to tread this earthly planet as it journeys about the sun!
Ellen: Contradictory – why?
John: We are the most extraordinary of all possible species! We are capable of everything from the most insane trench warfare to the most sublime concert music; from blinding greed to the most selfless charity; from mindless littering to the art of Rubens and Picasso; from fouling our atmosphere and causing climate change to the science of Madame Curie and Einstein. We are capable of understanding continental drift, yet building cities on the grinding edges of continental plates. (READ FULL INTERVIEW)
I just finished re-reading your conversation with Ellen for the third time. You’re such an accomplished and fascinating read…and I’m quite certain you’re also fascinating in person! Ellen’s ability to ask each of us such pertinent and personal questions so that our voices come through as the real individuals we are is pretty exciting. I feel as if I know you, and you certainly understood me through your comments on the Blog of my conversation with Ellen. . I enjoyed learning, journeying, and climbing and digging through life with you. Your love, respect, and deep caring for our amazing planet Earth, and all her inhabitants, comes through with real emotion. Your wise understanding of the goodness and gifts and sublime environment which surrounds us every second we are here is evident. I share your love for rocks, a special mountain, fossils, and your desire to make a difference through teaching what you love to learn. Through the photos included in your interview of your fantastic rock gardens/amphitheater I will now be able to stroll through them in my imagination. Your ability to harmonize “left brain/right brain” expands your vision in a most comprehensive manner. Everything you do, everything you say, and everything you will do, are all forming a meaningful and beautiful legacy.
PS I was blown away that you spotted The Buddha on the mountain-top in my Jade Symphony painting….
How I thoroughly enjoyed your words of so early this morning (US or SA time, I’m not quite sure). And how my grin grew as I learned that you had read through our Ellen/JMA interview no less than three times–whilst I’ve been suggesting to family, friends and colleagues that if they find it too expansive, they might wish to simply hop to the concluding bit of the journey.
And what an especially nice thought going into the future: that we’ll find ourselves between the covers of the same EllenP book as of Jan 2018–so will have every chance of ‘learning, journeying and climbing and digging’ together deep into the coming years! It’s going to be a tricky ride, but do let’s conjure our way through!
PS: How could I have missed your Buddha on the Jade-green mountain-top?
Life is filled with fleeting moments, and we are part of a spectrum in space and time. We must remember that all life on earth will be doomed to extinction in 5 billion years’ time, when the sun will blow up like a nuclear bomb and swallow up the planets when it becomes a Big Red Giant (BRG), so we’d better make the best use of time in the Anthropocene in today’s fleeting moments of the diversity of a grandeur of life, to avoid being doomed to extinction within the next decade.
Thanks FrancisT, descendent of William Makepeace Thackeray, and seemingly more distantly of William Shakespeare, paleoanthropologist with the most adventurous theoretical turn of mind, President of the Royal Society of South Africa! Master of ‘fleeting moments’, whether at the daily, historical, or galactic scale! How very right you are: we as Homo sapiens had better make the best of our fleeting moment upon this fragile planet! The clock is indeed clicking!
Thank you Jill Glenn for “climbing and digging” with joy and perception through the glimpses of John Anderson’s bountiful work. Welcome Francis Thackeray to this conversation and taking the time off from your busy life as a paleoanthropologist to share with us “fleeting moments” of celebration of “the diversity of a grandeur of life”. Indeed, we should not squander these moments. Your ancestor, Francis, William Makepeace Thackeray welcomed “the greenwood tree,/Welcome the forest free” and your other ancestor, William Shakespeare in his abundant creative output, took time to observe and pay homage to the wind: (“Blow, blow thou winter wind/ Thou art not so unkind/as man’s ingratitude”). And I am grateful to you, John Anderson, for using your fleeting moments to study, share and celebrate “time in the Anthropocene”.
A fascinating glimpse into the world of this articulate, prolific and highly successful author! It is fortunate that John Anderson’s desire to preserve is supported by such a wonderful memory and interesting to note how the desire for preservation flows into creation. It is lovely to embark on this imaginative journey and look at the earth from this perspective.
You are so very welcome, Anne, to venture along this ‘imaginative journey’ with the rest of us! A journey taking a look at our bountifully spectacular Earth through spectacles borrowed from our children’s children of tomorrow! With your brand-new D(Phil) Fine Art and your brand-new little girl you are hugely welcome. With your special angle on art evolving from the relationship between mind and matter (symbolized in landscape), through to humankinds bond with the environment, you are superbly clad for our journey!
Anne – how marvelously you have glimpsed – in fact penetrated – John’s and my conversation! Thank you for your kind words and for discovering as you say that “it is lovely to embark on this imaginative journey.”
“We are the most extraordinary of all possible species! We are capable of everything from the most insane trench warfare to the most sublime concert music”-John Anderson
And so I read these dancing words yet again, fierce as a tango and full of meaning, gently as a slow foxtrot and full of comfort. What resonates is that ultimately we are the most destructive species on earth, and we are the most capable to fix the destruction we have caused for the children of today and the future.
Forever fascinated by your creativity with words and ability to make them come to life.
Dancing words, Natasha, and how your words dance: as ‘fierce as a tango’, as ‘gently as a slow foxtrot’. Prodigious imagery from a young PhD scientist with a focus on invasive species, especially the Argentinian ant (Linepithema humile) and the havoc it’s wreaking on the Fynbos flora of the southern Cape. And you have every right to toss such dancing words about, having been the chairlady of the Ballroom Dancing Society at the University of Stellenbosch whilst still an undergraduate. And now your aim, through the ‘Citizen Science Project’ (and other things), is to help morph the most invasive of all species, Homo sapiens, into the most curatorial of all species–across Africa and globally.
We are with you Natasha–may your dancing words take root out there, and may your dancing feet leave a multitude of fertile footsteps!
Thank you John and Ellen, a very inspiring interview!
In my work as an environmental educator at the Finnish Museum of Natural History, I have had many opportunities to enjoy the twist that art gives to science – and vice versa.
Science builds our world views piece by piece into a more holistic canvas. Logic is beautiful. It makes sense and ties us into a bigger picture. But many times we really need arts (visual, verbal, acoustic…) to make us understand and feel the importance. We have to get our minds tuned and resonating. Only then the events, phenomena, details and morphological structures start breathing…
At the age of Anthropocene, we really need this twist!
The twist that art lends science, and the twist that science lends art: the DNA behind the Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki, where Satu has been the Educational Curator for quite some years. That DNA has fashioned a new species! A new species of place, of living environmental exhibition, to which families are drawn like no other place in Helsinki. A vibrant art/science twist of creative DNA!
Now all we have to do is ensure that that species founds a new family, which founds a new order, a new class, of living exhibit that spreads globally. A new class of vibrant living-Earth exhibit that families everywhere are drawn to like bees to a meadow of nectar.
Satu, I love your words! How succinctly and profoundly your comments highlight the holistic potential of the arts to complement the sciences, each world view contributing to the bigger picture! Yes, “We have to get our minds tuned and resonating” and additional amplification helps. And “we need this twist!” Thank you Satu and thank you Natasha for your terrific comments. I, too, am fascinated by John’s “creativity with words and ability to make them come to life”.
I’m breathless after reading this interview. Thank you Ellen and John for revealing creativity has no limits.
Good to meet you, Dede, between the lines of this worldwide multi-faceted conversation! We have so much in common, directly or indirectly. For now, I think of Hitler’s holocaust and beyond! I think of your most-exceptional husband Sammy Harris who spent 3-and-a-half years of his childhood hiding in the concentration camps. And as he put it, “one-and-a-half million children died. I made it.” Indeed, he was one of the youngest survivors of those unthinkable camps; and about the sole survivor of his large family! I think of his and your years of dedication spent building the Illinois Holocaust Museum, and of the busloads of schoolkids who visit it each week!
Yes, Dede, somehow we’re on the same trail towards a new kind of future where only the best side of humanity colours the horizon! Somehow, through my earliest childhood in London where Hitler’s military was bent on obliterating us, and Sammy’s in Poland, then in the camps, we find ourselves on the same journey. Yes, Dede and Sammy, It would be really great to meet you in person sometime.
John, what an honor to have met you precisely at the intersection of art and science. Several years back, when I needed to recreate your beloved Karoo of 220 million years ago, you were kind enough to be my advisor, and I was ever so grateful for the generosity with which you (and Heidi as well) shared your knowledge. I love voyaging to the distant past and tying to imagine what it was like to be there, and with your input I was able to do so, and so were my readers. I was amazed to learn from you that the diversity in those forest was equal to that of modern temperate forests — even though there was not yet a single flowering plant! And that long before flowers there were insects pollinating plants such as cycads, carrying pollen hither and thither.
And I am delighted to be working with you again, this time on a family tree of the plants. Art and science intertwining once again.
May all your projects bear fruit and may it help to stem the loss of biodiversity worldwide!
I think readily of two major global colonizers breasting forth from the islands of the Mediterranean! The first from Corsica, the second from Mallorca! The first with gun and bayonet in the early 1800s, the second with pen and paintbrush in the early 2000s! I’ll go with Hannah Bonner anytime! With her renderings of prehistoric ‘Life on Earth’ for ‘National Geographic Kids’, she has a huge global reach, and given her uncanny touch her reach will spread to the furthest corners everywhere! What a pleasure it has been, Hannah, voyaging together into the past! And what renewed pleasure now, voyaging together via the past into the future! With our Insect Timetrees and our Plant Timetrees and a whole spectrum of other Timetrees to come, we will reach those billions of kids about the world. And they will clamber ‘hither and thither’ through this forest of Hannah-esque trees, and they will discover a new world, and they will push for a renewed far-friendlier world bursting at the seams with biodiversity!
Dear Dr. John Anderson. For me was also an honour to have met you one day in my life, together with other worldwide representatives of research in Paleobotany and Botany subjects, in a Congress in South Brazil. At the time I can appreciate your knowledge about Gondwana floras, that you also show in the present interview. I was ever grateful for the generosity with which you and Heidi shared your knowledge. At the time you were the first to call me the attention to the importance of our plant fossils, taking into account its similarity with those from South Africa. And I become deeply touched to see your knowledge about Brazilian vegetation. Thanks for been a so special person, always in love with nature and capable to pass this passion to all that have the pleasure to know you.