Imagination may be the most important ability that humans possess. It serves us well, both as children and as adults. Our imagination provides the greatest of ideas and the most energetic spark of motivation to inspire us to embark on new adventures.
Imagination is important, even if we cannot quantify or measure it. It is so important that Albert Einstein said that it was more important than knowledge. His thoughts about the power of imagination are captured in this quote: "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 (1)."
In that quotation, we see that the man who lay the foundation of modern science revealed that there was something even more powerful than the atom. That power is human imagination. The amazing power of imagination is that its boundaries extend far beyond our tangible world. The human mind can imagine far off places, people that are not real, and inventions that cannot yet exist. This great ability is easily accessible by some people, while others struggle to use it. Regardless of how easy or difficult one’s imagination is to access, it seems that every human uses it to some extent.
Can we prove that everyone can use their imagination? A possible proof can be found in watching children at play. Children have an innate ability to take an object, almost any object, and make a toy out of it. They can invent imaginary friends and assign a personality to them. A child can play with a toy telephone and engage in a dialogue with a person that only exists in their mind. A child can even make an exquisite 5 course meal using nothing more than a plastic kitchen set.
The art of some children is amazing, although abstract. These abilities are one of the things that brings joy to parents and others who watch children at play. We seem drawn to their creative ability, with both respect and nostalgia, because we recognize that we once had it in our younger days.
As we grow, our brain develops other abilities, such as problem-solving and decision-making abilities. Children go to school to learn new things. Our minds are always learning and adapting. As adults, we go to work and learn as we encounter new situations. We grow, we learn, and we experience. Our brain develop. Our analytical ability grows as we mature. Our minds become a vast storehouse of information as we study language, literature, math, and science. Our imagination is still there, but it becomes one part of a growing mind that has many other capabilities. Is it this growth that stifles the imagination? Or is it that we rely less on our imagination and more on our knowledge, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities to help us in our hurried lives? Do we lean on knowledge, experience, and routine to guide us, rather than looking for novel approaches with our imagination?
In the article What Happens to Creativity as we Age, Gopnik and Griffiths state the following:
Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change (2).
Change can be a challenge for anyone. Why imagine new things, new processes, or new methods to do things when the established ways have worked so well? Why waste time, energy, and money to invent new things when the established things work just fine? Why? Because imagination can be the most powerful tool that we have as we mature. It can help us envision new inventions, set noble goals for enterprises, plan for our future, and create beauty in our lives.
Ah, but who has time to imagine when there are bills to pay, job duties to tend to, spreadsheets to manage, and meetings to attend? Can you remember the last time you read an adventure book, painted a picture, or stared at the shapes in the clouds? It is not too late to make a little room for imagination in your life. There is value in this, even if it is only for a short time. Who knows? You might find the inner child when you lose yourself in an art museum, read a good book, or pick up a pencil and a sketch pad. Do you remember, when you once were a child, inventing kingdoms and ruling them magnificently? Take some time to stir up your imagination. Just be sure not to do it while driving or operating industrial equipment!
If you still doubt the value of time invested in fostering your imagination, consider this:
We imagined how to fly long before we knew how.
We imagined what it would be like to walk on the moon long before we knew how to get there.
We imagined our future life before we ever embarked on it.
If you still need some more encouragement, consider Fran Sorin’s seven helpful ways to jump start your imagination. In her article at www.Psychologytoday.com (3), she lists the following:
There is value in exercising your imagination. Get back to the creative work of imagination. Listen to an inspiring sermon, tune into an awesome song, read a poem, stare deeply into a work of art, read a story, invent some new thing, carve out time to imagine again.
Getting back in touch with my imagination is why I created the town of Bear Ridge. It is a place of my imagination, for my imagination. A town with homes, characters, and many adventures to come. It all dances through my mind. This town, created from my books, ignites the creative parts of my mind. The creativity provides color to my eyes. It forces me to refine my writing and to challenge myself to think through the interaction of characters. It is my hope that in reading my books that the imagination of my readers will also be kindled.
2. Alison Gopnik and Tom Griffiths. What Happens to Creativity as we Age. New York Times. August 19, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/what-happens-to-creativity-as-we-age.html
3. Fran Sorin. 7 Simple Yet Effective Ways to Jump-Start Your Imagination. Psychology Today. February 1, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tools-innovative-living/201702/7-simple-yet-effective-ways-jump-start-your-imagination
4. Art from Chris Plyler: https://www.instagram.com/inali_art/
Why You Should Have a Child-Like Imagination (and the Research that Proves It). Ideas to Go. June, 2, 2017. https://www.ideastogo.com/articles-on-innovation/why-you-should-have-a-child-like-imagination-and-the-research-that-proves-it
Clint Plyler was born and raised in South Carolina. He now lives in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife April and three wonderful children. You will often find him at the nearest coffee shop with his laptop and sketch book, writing or sketching. He is the author of Night Night Hamlet.
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