Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Great Debate ~ imagination vs. knowledge

Albert Einstein / Imagination will take you everywhere.
Albert Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge.  "Knowledge," he stated, "is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand."

Put into a modern context, in our ever-changing, "wired" world of 24/7/365 news and information, technology and culture, does Einstein's vision of imagination over knowledge still hold true?  I would like to think so. After all, imagination gives us impetus to create.  Yet, I do believe imagination often owes a debt of gratitude to knowledge.

Here's an example: Knowledge is Thomas Edison developing the means for improving the audibility of the telephone. Imagination is Steve Jobs taking Edison's body of late 19th/early 20th century knowledge and ~ with a world of imagination (and some great marketing) ~ turning it into the modern creation of the Apple iPhone 4, a smart phone for the 21st century.  The Apple iPhone 4 is not only a telephone, but also it's a camera, an mp3 player, an information receiver, organizer, and a communications device all-in-one ~ and just slightly more portable than Edison's telephones ever were.

Here's another example: The American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium and host of the PBS series Nova scienceNOW, has studied the great debate of imagination versus knowledge.  He understands and appreciates the benefits that both sides contribute to the study of science and physics.

"You can explore (what's already been explored), but your life is not at risk for having done so," deGrasse Tyson said, explaining the worthiness and human spirit of adventure in sending man to explore Mars at a time when a return to Moon may be less risky.

During a recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, deGrasse Tyson, a popularizer of science, expounded on the imagination versus knowledge debate:  "When you are on the frontier of knowledge between what is known and what is unknown ~ reaching out into that abyss ~ sometimes, you do actually have to make stuff up that might be true so that you can organize a research plan to find out whether or not it is."  

A false bridge?  Maybe, but it comes with good intentions and involves a bit of risk taking.

"This is the creativity of discovery," deGrasse Tyson concluded.

Which brings us back to Einstein, the German born American physicist with the whimsical facial expressions, who developed the special and general theories of relativity ~ no small fete ~ and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.  "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,'' Einstein said. "Imagination is the preview of life's coming attractions.

"Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere."

Life's an adventure.  The journey continues ...

Photo of Albert Einstein taken in 1953, Ruth Orkin/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.


  1. Think of a world without artists and poets -- we would be so poor of mind and spirit. Imagination creates. Knowledge gets things done. I love the two mixing together -- think of how the story unfolds in "The social network." It took imagination to make the product Mr. Zuckerberg has created that is now being used to fuel the revolutions around the world. Imagination changes life and society and culture.

  2. hello its
    a me eeeee+2626236+63