Imagination or Knowledge?

Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Do you agree or disagree?

At different times for different reasons both are important. I want my health professional to use knowledge rather than imagination but when our work team is brain storming projects for which we are seeking new funding, the ability to think outside the norm is far better than knowledge. In the last instance knowledge drawn from experience can be a disadvantage when that experience has had negative connotations. Narrative therapists use the miracle question that allows us to imagine our best possible outcome if every barrier to that achievement were to be removed. It promotes change – the imagining.

“What would you do with a million dollars?” The ideas flow and excitement mounts egging us on to think more radically than we usually would and to “dream the impossible dream”. Sheer imagination: what if, imagine how. It energises and unleashes fantastical possibilities that draw great rainbows of hope through our lives. I think of imagination as creative, fun, empowering, inclusive, and nurturing. Above all imagination has been one of my single most useful tools in problem solving. Unencumbered by facts, being able to think of all possibilities unconstrained by logic or common sense. So many times an answer ‘comes from left field’ and imagination has been the catalyst.

Wordsmiths create verbal vistas into which we escape when we open a book. How often do we hear the lament:  “They were nothing like I imagined,” because as we read the book characters take form in our imagination.  The disappointment arises as we see how the producer has interpreted the character so differently to ourselves. Being able to draw oneself away on an imaginary journey, a meditation, or a daydream, is the ability to escape the stresses or mundaneness of our lives. When we’re sad remember happier times, we imagine how things might be different, then there are times when the imagination of another person may pull us through the doldrums.

On the other hand knowledge is solid, staid, and factual. Knowledge has its genesis in research and peer review and debate. It is not abstract, can be measured and observed and proven. It is scientifically scrutinised within an inch of its life until finally it is able to provide evidence of truth – unlike gossip or slander which may have some substance but much imagination, or malice. Everyone has knowledge, as most everyone has imagination, or at least the capacity to believe in something they do not see.  Some sceptics might argue that religious people have good imaginations.

From our wellspring of knowledge comes our ability to imagine. We imagine on the basis of what we know to be true. We rely on our creativity to take us beyond that knowledge into unchartered territory which exists in our imagination alone.

I think knowledge binds cultures together and imagination helps us to innovate ways to get along with each other. Communities abide by a set of social norms and laws to which the population are expected to adhere to. The same applies to religious communities, each has a set of traditions which we choose to uphold if we wish to remain as part of the in-group.

Neither knowledge nor imagination occur in isolation of the other. So I disagree that one is more important than the other. Both are intrinsic to human diversity and development; both nurture survival.

Having audaciously disagreed with one of the greatest minds the world has ever known I feel it only right that Mr Einstein has the last word even if he does reiterate his premise that imagination is more important than knowledge:

“Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”




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