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Reach | Spring 2011

Features

Can We Imagine Peace?

Imagination—one of the liberal arts' most valuable tools—allows human beings to transcend present realities and shape the future. Three scholars investigate fundamental components of peace and envision new ways to make it a reality.

By Kate Stanley; introduction by Mary Pattock

So here we are, at the end of the new millennium's first decade. We've peered back at the dawn of creation, found water on Mars. We've mapped most of the human genome, can watch the brain at work, know how to replace hearts, clone pigs from stem cells, and smash protons. We have smart phones. And vacuum cleaners with minds of their own.

But the thing we claim to desire most continues to elude us.
Peace. And its twin sister, justice.

Peace exists, but only ephemerally, vanishing as quickly as a bullet can escape the barrel of a gun. War, political and economic terrorism, and ethnic conflict continue to wrack the globe as they have from time immemorial. In fact, our last century was our bloodiest. It was also the one in which we first applied practical imagination to what was previously unimaginable--how to achieve our own self-destruction--and then made the tool to do it: the atom bomb.

The idea of the atom, the radical component of all matter, originated long ago where all of our endeavors do: in the human imagination, that astonishing place in the mind we visit when we need to transcend limitations.

The atom was just a notion in the 5th century B.C.E., when Democritus and Leucippus came up with the theory of "atomism." It was 2,300 years before that child of the mind actually shook hands with reality--first with Einstein and others who produced a description of the atom's shape, size, behaviors, and relationships, then when J. Robert Oppenheimer and colleagues split the atom, framing its overarching presence in a way that changed the world forever. Its release spawned the dark clouds of war, nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, and mutually assured destruction.

Perhaps, reader, you see this question coming: can we do the same thing with the elusive concept of peace? Are we able to take the first step--to imagine peace, a sustained peace, and make tools of mind and body that might help us create it? Can we figure out what peace is made of, discover its "atomic" components and release its power so that at last we can intentionally, knowledgeably, make peace?

The faculty members we feature in this story are doing just that: imagining peace. They are committed to the belief that with knowledge, creativity, and commitment we can, indeed, realize peace and justice.

Their research questions are radical--about the nature of peace, about the "atoms" that make it up and that just might be amenable to some kind of rearrangement or condition that will allow peace to settle in and stay awhile.

Imagination--one of the liberal arts' most valuable tools--allows us to transcend present realities and shape the future. Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

April 7th, 2011
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