Albert Einstein’s quotes are very popular these days, and some of them have an eerily prophetic voice that speaks, it seems, for the exact age in which we now live. The queer thing that gets me most about Einstein, for all his absurdly astonishing contributions to the strict, hard science of Physics, is that he just never acted all that impressed with knowledge and technology. In fact, he often warned about the negative effects technology could have on people. Instead he went out of his way to extol the virtue and pre-eminence of imagination. Here is the quote:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein
Why would he say that?
Einstein lived in the spectacular golden age of science. Comprehension about the human body, our world and even the universe – from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely colossal – grew at an exponential rate. The information and knowledge gathered in that era paved the way for almost all the great technological advances that we enjoy (or fear) today.
I think Einstein believed in the superiority of imagination because knowledge has a severe limitation. I don’t mean it is limited in that there is still so much we do not know about the universe, for example. Of course there is much to learn, but it is imagination rather than knowledge that allows us to figure out how to do it. Simply put, we were never going to put a man on the moon until someone dreamed it could be done. Likewise, a cure for cancer or AIDS will not be found until some creative soul expands the limits of knowledge and starts thinking, or better, imagining, “what if we do this?”
Imagination fuels the advancement of knowledge; not merely by fits and starts, but by factorial leaps. Is it really a stretch, then, to say this is a great foundation for teaching a child? Learning by drill and repetition bores most children to abject misery. No wonder so many boys, given their propensity for restlessness, especially have trouble in traditional schools. Educators and parents would do well to lead children into asking the big questions (who, what, how, why) and encouraging them to dream, to imagine what is not and to believe they can make a difference.
So if you are wondering if your child’s time is best spent memorizing multiplication tables or studying the planets as opposed to playing with Legos, without a doubt, I believe Einstein would suggest your child build a spaceship.