Friday, October 21, 2011

Responses 003 (Nov 2012)

The short list for the year ahead has this as Question 3: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." — Albert Einstein. Do you agree?

I think this question is one of those trivial ones which can be made important by deliberately introducing extra material. So let's dispense with the trivial approach first.

Knowledge does not exist without information, and information does not exist without data. At each stage, the questions of validity, reliability, utility, generalisability, transferability (etc., etc.) intervene in an attempt to prove or disprove the various claims that arise (whether actual or potential). Hence the only way to claim knowledge is to subject it to tests of some kind of reality — something that contrasts or is contrasted with imagination. Without imagination, i.e. the capacity to create images/imagery or otherwise imagine, we cannot test knowledge. Knowledge therefore has no importance without imagination.

In fact, etymologically and historially, the image or imago is the ideal or fully-developed concept of something. The real is merely the sub-standard shadow in Plato's cave. We see this usage in the relationship between (for example) real and ideal gases.

At this point, we can concede completely that Einstein was right. However, as always, a case can be made for negotiating on the basis of 'important'. What does 'important' mean?

'Important', from Latin importare, is used to indicate something 'brought in', 'brought into the discussion'. This explains why 'import' can mean 'significance' as well as 'something shipped in'. When we say something is 'of import' or 'important', we are saying that it is a point to be noted, or that we should pay attention to it.

And that is why knowledge might be thought of as more important than imagination — knowledge is reality as far as we can confirm it, and is thus the basis of our action in this world. It introduces the key points to be considered in what we do, as opposed to imagination, which is what we might aspire to (or have realised that we can never attain).

The argument then, it seems to me, is whether the real is of greater value (practical or otherwise) than the ideal. It's a good debate to have. While the idea of an ideal gas allows us to conceptualise many things, no such gas exists — we have to solve problems in reality based on real gases.

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Blogger CS said...

I thought your approach was a fairly wise method to go about the essay. (The second part about importance. The first part was obvious to me.)

I think a point can also be made that current knowledge may actually expand your imagination and prompt you to think about things you have never thought about before. It would be cool to put this argument in the context of Einstein's own domain of achievement, physics. Physicists are always saying that they are excited to find something they didn't expect to see (new knowledge), which can lead them to think of a new idea or theory. What do you think?

Monday, July 23, 2012 4:11:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

CS: I think knowledge can alter the range of your imagination. You can't really tell, with imagination. :) But here's a sort of counterclaim: if you know more, you may obtain realisation of your imagination, thus reducing your imagination — what was once imagined is now real. You then have to expand it yourself, I suppose. When physicists say they are excited, that's probably a genuine self-appraisal; however, they have to do work against the pressure of knowledge to expand the bubble of imagination again...

Monday, July 30, 2012 3:32:00 am  

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