The Great Wall of China can be seen from space

Human imagination is a powerful evolutionary force.  Imagination has shaped many aspects of our environment and imagination will continue to powerfully shape our future environment.

For thousands of years, human imagination has created artifacts.  In fact, anthropologists determined that humans had crossed the threshold into modernity over 100,000 years ago because of the symbolic artifacts that they created and left for us to find today. These artifacts were beads.

Over time, some of these artifacts have grown to change the landscape, and some, like the Great Wall of China, can now be seen from space.

Earth at Night

Human imagination is a powerful force in evolution.  Edison imagined the light bulb, and now these lights are visible from space. Humans imagined bigger and better ways to build buildings and roads, and now we have mega cities.

Because human imagination is such a powerful force, it has ushered in the most recent geological age: the Anthropocene.

Human imagination often has unintended consequences.  Early humans imagined ways to keep warm with fire and later imagined ways to move with internal combustion engines. Now, the unintended consequence of burning fossil fuels is excess CO2 that contributes to climate change.

People imagine the beauty and joy of children, and now seven billion people inhabit the planet, more than can be sustained at the current US standard of living.  Growing populations of humans and their demand for goods also compete for resources with other species, some of which are declining at an alarming rate.

Cancer or Immune System?

Because of overpopulation, species loss and climate change, some people view humans as a cancer on the planet and feel that Earth would be better off without humans.  Some go so far as promoting voluntary human extinction. 

Still other people view human imagination as a benefit to Earth, more akin to the Earth’s immune system.  A positive image of the future allows a greater benefit to the planetary community.

Imagining a Thriving Future

People’s positive images of the future are already giving us many benefits:  global communication,  green solutions to prevent CO2 emissions, preventing species loss, increasing economic prosperity and mental well-being.

Human imagination may even save sentient life on Earth.  For example, the B612 Foundation has a goal to predict and prevent catastrophic asteroid impacts, like the one that killed the dinosaurs. Their goal is to find potentially threatening asteroids, track their trajectories, and to deflect oncoming asteroids.

Human imagination may protect Earth from asteroid impact.


Unlike the dinosaurs, we have the means to prevent catastrophic impacts. ~ B612 Foundation


Unlike the dinosaurs, we have the ability to see the consequences of our actions.  And unlike the dinosaurs, we have the imagination to create a better future, for ourselves and for all sentient beings.

Still others see humanity as promotors of life, love and sentience here and elsewhere in the universe.  As just one example among many visionaries, Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, imagines that humans can create a greener technologies and colonize space.  To realize his vision, he has created Tesla Motor company to create electric vehicles and SpaceX, a company that makes low cost, reliable rockets.

World's Extreme Poverty Declining

Proportion of world's population living in extreme poverty.

Human imagination also helps lift millions of people from economic poverty.   Muhammad Yunus, “Banker to the Poor” who won the Noble Peace Prize for his work on micro-loans to poor people, imagines that within 30 years, there will no longer be radical poverty on Earth.  His vision is becoming reality. According to the World Bank, the proportion of the population living in extreme economic poverty fell from over 40 percent in 1981 to around 21 percent in 2008.

While lack of imagination has threatened extinction for many animals, a hopeful imagination is protecting endangered species.  The Species Survival Plan, begun in 1981 by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, seeks to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered in the wild.




University of Oxford (2009, May 5). World’s Oldest Manufactured Beads Are Older Than Previously Thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 24, 2012, from­ /releases/2009/05/090505163021.htm