Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Essay by Alison Ross

by Alison Ross

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein once said, and if anyone should understand that, he should. After all, Einstein was indirectly involved in developing the atomic bomb, and yet later he became staunchly opposed to using creative discoveries in destructive ways.

To be perfectly clear and fair, Einstein merely evolved the mathematical formula that led to the atomic bomb creation. True, at one point he did urge the Americans to build the bomb, if only because he feared the Germans would do it first. Later, he regretted his actions, for his discoveries had been distorted toward appalling ends - i.e., the horrific atomic annihilations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

So, suffice it to say that Einstein intuitively understood that knowledge has negligible value if it’s misused or abused. It’s one thing to be knowledgeable, but it’s quite another to put one’s education to innovative use.

Lack of imagination is the reason why most people are dangerously disposed to rigid conformity in terms of personal style, thinking patterns and political philosophies. It’s why most modern-day home and office building architecture features an austerely generic look, on the inside and out, why most people sport a similar sartorial fashion, passively accept on-the-job abuse, and vote for robotic despots instead of boisterously clamoring for dynamic leaders who will bring indelible change.

Lack of imagination is why most people prize sports over the arts. It’s not to say that we should not value physical pursuits. After all, sports can be artistic activity unto themselves. However, rather than embracing sports so manically and hyperbolically, we should seamlessly integrate them into a culture which cherishes the visual and poetic arts above all else. Witness athletes’ obnoxious salaries and their ubiquitous media existence. What does this tell us about our culture’s priorities?

Lack of imagination is the reason for corporate hegemony. Big business brings more misery than good into the world – it creates environmental suffering, economically and socially oppresses, and perpetuates the insipid illusion that consumerism is king. Small businesses, on the other hand, generally are vibrant forces in a society, because they sublimate the profit-motive by manufacturing interesting, meaningful products, and endowing a culture with a sense of color and novelty. Independent bookstores and CD stores, for instance, are often gleaming examples of the irrepressible inventive spirit.

Lack of imagination is why our world is so submerged in suffering. There are many things to celebrate about life, and yet, that’s only really true if you have ready access to food, shelter, education, and so on. Many people do not have access to these bare basics of life. Indeed, upwards of one billion people are miserably poor. Is this because individuals make bad choices, or because societies make bad choices? I say the latter. If society made more compassionate choices, then poverty would diminish, and humanity would flourish. Compassion is a key component in imagination.

Einstein’s pronouncement that imagination is more important than knowledge is so ridiculously true it hurts. Imagination is everything. Yes, we need knowledge in order for imagination to have tools to work with. But without imagination, knowledge becomes unfocused, wayward and ripe for corruption.

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