I have this hypothesis that cultures featuring a great deal of mythology and/or religion
tend not to possess or encourage greater use of the imagination.
surmise this is because mythology, at least, traditionally, is typically
presented as true and inviolable - imagining anything else could be
construed as heresy to the existing orthodox, and thus tends not to be
emphasised at all. Thus, we find a great paucity
of inventiveness throughout most ancient cultures. For instance, a cursory analysis of Indian and Chinese culture would indicate little or no fermentation of new thought post the formation of an established mythology and philosophy: one would be hard pressed to look for startlingly new ideas post the establishment of pandeist Hinduism alongside Islam in India and Buddhism in China. Strains of thought derived from the same - Taoism or Confucianism, for instance, or the Sufi sect of Islam in India - do not count: as extensions or adaptations of a 'mother' philosophy, they can hardly be classed as radical.
The themes derived from these philosophies reverberate throughout virtually every text from those times - radicality, it seems, is best suppressed by conformity. While both cultures exhibit some degree of invention - the Chinese invented paper money, bureaucracy and fireworks, while the Indians are proudest of having exported and invented the idea of the number zero, and at least some of the principles of algebra and trigonometry - neither appear to encourage the use of the imagination openly. Popular perception even today classes the cultures as 'traditional' and 'conservative'. Radical visionaries, moreover, do not appear to have been tolerated by the main: Srinivas Ramanujam, ostensibly India's greatest and most gifted mathematician, was shunned by the mainstream Indian mathematical community, so much so that Ramanajum only gained fame after appealing to the British mathematician G. H. Hardy, who took the extraordinary step of bringing him over to Cambridge.
This is not to be
confused with skill: architecture and art in these cultures are often
brilliantly illuminating, and some remain, to this day, the very
pinnacle of human ability. No, it is the subject that suffers more than
the medium: literature, theater, even music become, over time,
institutionalised and inconducive to experimentation in terms of plot,
character, rhythm, melody and so on. I would not expect, for instance, a
theme as grandiose and revolutionary as Inception's from India, nor an
ouevre of such depth as 1984's from, say,
There are probably many failures with this hypothesis, but it is still a thought.