The Philoctetes Center was established to promote an integrated, multidisciplinary study of imagination.
To further its mission, the Center supports research, holds roundtable discussions with participants from various disciplines, offers a forum for the presentation of works in progress, and is developing a data base of works on imagination with the aim of becoming a clearing house for literature on the subject. The Center issues a bi-monthly newsletter, Dialog, and will be publishing a journal, Philoctetes: The Journal of the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination.
The Philoctetes Center began as a discussion about imagination. Imagination being the palette of psychoanalysis, we were interested in what creative people who have a particularly acute relationship to the imagination could tell us about psychoanalysis and, conversely, what psychoanalysis could reveal about the creative process. We were influenced by C.P. Snow's famed Two Cultures essay, in which he inveighed against the separation between science and the humanities. Our approach was multidisciplinary from the very earliest sessions, where we involved both scientists and artists. What we found from these early discussions is that we were interested in mind (psychoanalysis), brain (neurology) and imagination viewed from the clinical, research and educational points of view.
The roundtable is one aspect of the educational element. While we initially called participants together to tell us what they thought an institute for the study of imagination might be about, these groups turned out to be so interesting in themselves that we decided to continue them on a regular basis.
When we first gathered artists and scientists together and asked them what their ideal imagination institute would be, no one directly answered the question. But we had no problem with adherents. Antonio Damasio, Joan Acocella, Laurie Anderson, Sharon Olds, Elaine Pagels, Jonathan Lear, Len Shengold, Marcel Kinsbourne and Jason Brown were all part of these early exercises in self-definition, and many became part of our permanent Advisory Board.
Along the way we successfully formed partnerships with the National Academy Museum and Film Forum (the latter turning into a regular film series in which we previewed such movies as In the Realms of the Unreal, Writer of O, and Ballets Russes). We also funded our first project, a study of intuition and education conducted by Oliver Turnbull of the University of Wales.
Our initial conversations took place in Ed Nersessian's living room, and we hope that the intimacy of our new space, with its roundtable setting, will stimulate audiences to become active participants in this endeavor.
If contemplating imagination is a little like fifteenth century explorers setting out to discover a new world, we've barely made it out of the shipyard. But it recalls what the Nobel laureate and cell biologist Christian De Duve said at one of our recent panels: "Evolution isn't a theory; it's a fact." Imagination isn't a theory; it's a fact. It has to be progress when you're ready to hit the nail on the head.
From Center Co-Directors Francis Levy and Edward Nersessian