As I began informally researching ‘the imagination’, I saw parallels between the way the environment is imagined and the way knowledge is understood. I remembered, for the first time, how I experienced myself in the world as a child.
When I was young I went to Sydney frequently on a Qantas airplane by myself. My grandmother would meet me at ‘the other end’ at the airport. I never questioned it, but my geographical understanding of living on earth was not horizontal, broad, or global, but very much vertical and hierarchical. I imagined ‘going up’ to Sydney and ‘coming back down’ to Melbourne literally; that Sydney was located above Melbourne, perhaps, I imagined, on a layer of grass that sat on top of the clouds.
Upon adult reflection, this was the spatial, imagined structure through which I walked and felt the world. Remembering into this way of geography, my awareness was composed of, and informed by, both my experience and my imagination. The environment I experienced seemed to simulate the conceptual organisation of knowledge. Department stores were arranged in levels, buildings were vertical, hamburgers had layers, and schooling was similarly arranged in vertical structures. Voices advising me to ‘wake up’, ‘get up’, ‘stand up’, ‘chin up’ and ‘grow up’ directed me to the way the world is arranged.
What interests me is how ways of seeing the world involve imagination. There is also a feeling of a relatedness between the structures that organise knowledge and ways the environment is imagined. The verticalities in the built, urban environment are fitting metaphors for hierarchies of knowledge and knowers.
I wonder, if I grew up in a broader, treed, naturally lit open landscape would my idea of knowledge and education regard growth, expanse or brilliance as metaphors for getting wiser?
Is my understanding of knowledge constrained by my environment? Or can an environmental awareness also expand my epistemological understandings?
And why do I imagine knowledge environmentally?
Sally Jensen is a Sustainability Educator and facilitator of the ResourceSmart Schools program in Victoria.