This I Believe

Kristie - Cypress, Texas
Entered on January 6, 2009

I Believe That Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Albert Einstein once said “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.” I, too, believe that imagination is more important than knowledge. As a geology professor, I am often under pressure to measure the success of my students by a very limited yard stick: how much knowledge they have obtained under my tutelage. Imagination and creativity are difficult to assess and therefore it is rarely attempted.

I could stand up in front of my class and drone on about igneous rocks, sedimentary processes, and geologic time to my heart’s content. I could test my students on their ability to remember the definition of clastic texture or the order of the periods on the geologic time scale and stress the small details over the larger concepts. But, what would that really show of my students and their ability to accomplish future tasks or come up with new ideas? I could emphasize content over thinking, secondary investigation over primary investigation, canned lab exercises over real-life experiences instead of encouraging and facilitating the students’ use of their imagination. Einstein also said that “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

If the purpose of a college education is to produce, thinking, imaginative, problem solving individuals for our future workforce, I believe that we are missing opportunities by emphasizing knowledge over imagination and creativity.

History is littered with stories of informally trained individuals who imagined their way through a problem they wanted to solve. Examples include such people as Margaret Knight who invented devices used in manufacturing that improved productivity and saved lives; William Smith, who through the building of canals throughout England, discovered the concept of fossil succession; and, John Harrison who invented the marine chronometer, a clock capable of telling time accurately at sea and therefore enabling sailors to calculate longitude. These people used their imagination and their knowledge gained through personal experience and investigation, to solve problems or develop new concepts.

I believe that primary investigation and observation are important to a student’s understanding of a concept and in turn open the mind to view things in a new way thereby stimulating the imagination. I notice the power in taking students out in the field, whether to a stream to observe stream processes and erosion or to the beach to observe coastal processes and the problems with coastal development; they begin to look at the world with open eyes. They see, rather than just look, which is the foundation of discovery.

If all I teach my students is to rely entirely on the knowledge of previous investigations and discoveries without using their imagination to create or discover new things, they will never grow or develop to their fullest intellectually. I believe that focusing on imagination and creativity coupled with knowledge more than knowledge alone produces an innovative, successful, and happy society.

This I believe.