An Unrestrained, Uninhibited ImaginationAlbert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” But, if this is so, why are so many of us frantically seeking knowledge and giving so little time to using our imaginations? If it seems ironic that a writer who calls herself a “critical thinker” and says that she is on a quest for wisdom and truth would be emphasizing the importance of using one’s imagination, all I can say is that I am not the least bit predictable. I do think that critical and particularly reflective thinking is an essential part of creating a life of personal fulfillment, but I also think that if you don’t use your imagination, you will end up stifling a crucial part of yourself.
How far back do your first memories go? Do you remember a point where the world was filled with wonder and every new bird or flower made you feel exhilarated, at least temporarily? What do you think brought an end to this state of mind in which the world and all that inhabits it overwhelmed you with awe? When did you stop asking so many questions? When did you become afraid that the thoughts or feelings you had were outrageous or strange or “outside the norm?”
If you are like many people, you probably found that a lot of your imaginative ideas were discouraged by teachers, parents, and other authority figures in your environment. When I was a child of five, I was a very creative artist and drew the letters of the alphabet in a way that nobody else did. I added animals to each letter, such as giraffes, birds, and kangaroos. I was unaware that what I was doing was odd until many years later, when my mother confessed to me that my teacher had taken her aside and told her that the way I drew my letters was “unacceptable.” Now, over two decades have passed since then, and I have recently discovered that Picasso created his letters the same way that I created mine. I may not ever have possessed Picasso’s artistic talent, but what he and I do share is a vivid imagination.
Of course, I think most of us do have imaginations. It’s simply that society doesn’t encourage us to make adequate use of them. When you hear the phrase, “experimental thinking,” what comes to mind? Does the term bring positive or negative thoughts to your mind? Since I have an ever developing interest in science, experimental thinking is a concept that I naturally embrace. If you don’t, that’s okay. What I do hope you’ll at least do is consider the concept. It’s really just another way to define out-of-the-box thinking. And, who wants to live inside a box?
For me, every day is an experiment, which means that I am engaging in experimental thinking on a full-time basis. I am constantly examining and re-examining my own thoughts, and I hope that’s what you’ll start doing, too. When we look at the world, we oftentimes think that it’s changing, when we are the ones who are in the process of change.
Have you ever known anyone who thought that he/she had all the answers? Have you conversed with someone who seemed to be under the delusion that whatever their opinions and beliefs were, they were always right? I’ve known a few of these people myself, and what I am becoming more and more aware of is how vastly they are limiting themselves. Naturally, they are the first people to call themselves “open-minded”. They will do their best to convince you that their beliefs and views are the result of critical thinking and personal reflection. But, what is the truth? People are fully capable of telling us anything, particularly when it comes to defining themselves. The question is, can any of us really be sure that more than a handful of our beliefs and opinions are valid?
If you hope to make any positive changes in your life, you’re going to have to be willing to rip the veil off of some of the ideas you’re subscribing to now. And, if you engage your imagination, I think you’ll discover that the life you want doesn’t match up with the life you’re living now. Or, am I wrong? I would love to think that everything is perfect in your world. Yet, I have a sense that some aspect of your life isn’t quite the way you want it to be. If my perceptions are correct, then take a few minutes to listen to my ideas instead of just tossing them aside.
You are the creator of your destiny. That’s right, you. Although you may want to blame someone or something else for your mistakes, you’re the one who made them. But, you’re also the one who can change your life because you are in control of all of your choices. Even the choice you make now is one that you alone have power over. If you’re reading this article, you are the one who decided to read it. And you are also the one who decides whether you’ll let my words enter into your mind and soul and become part of your being. I think I’ve already made it clear that I don’t care who agrees with me anymore. Ridicule or criticize me if you like–it’s all the same to me. I simply don’t care, for part of gaining wisdom and enlightenment (and no, I’m not talking about anything religious) is the cutting away of that which is not essential and/or significant. Those who demean my work are not significant to me. And my focusing on their denigrating words is not essential to my life.
There is much to be said about letting go of everything that is not essential. If you were to look upon your life as a house that you were moving out of and you could only pack up the things you really needed to move to a new and smaller place, what choices would you make? How many friendships would you keep pursuing or maintaining? How many books would you give away? Which pieces of furniture would you sell? Are you starting to follow my line of thinking? In a way, it’s like asking yourself, “How would I live if I only had six months left on this earth?” If you like, you can substitute that concept instead. Whatever works for you works for me, too. We each have our own “comfort zone” when it comes to thinking, and some of us are slower to move out of that comfort zone than others.
But, just to re-iterate point about the importance of ”experimental” (i.e., outside-the-box) thinking, let’s turn to the words of John Dewey. “Taken merely as a doubt, an idea would paralyze inquiry. Taken merely as a certainty, it would arrest inquiry. Taken as a doubtful possibility, it affords a standpoint, a platform, a method of inquiry.” What Dewey is encouraging us to do is to make sure that we do not become too certain of the ideas we subscribe to. Yet, instead of doubting our ideas, he suggests that we consider them as possibilities. So, we can imagine that an idea is correct, while simultaneously holding the thought in our mind that the idea might not be true.
In a way, we can become the scientists of our worlds. We can look upon our lives as a laboratory and conduct various experiments every day. Has anything great every be achieved by those who played it safe? What novel or innovative concept has anyone come up with who refused to re-examine his or her thoughts and ideas? Unfortunately, society tends to foster the spirit of certainty. We are supposed to be fanatical fans of someone or something–we are urged to have vehement political and religious views. If we don’t, we have accusations hurled at us about lacking conviction.
Well, conviction is very important. But, you have to make sure that your convictions are the result of reflective, critical, and experimental thinking. John Dewey in his book, How We Think, speaks in some detail about what he refers to as “empirical thinking” or “empiricism.” This type of thinking brings about a lack of flexibility that can lead to dogmatism and an attitude in which a person engages in heated debates and not productive discussions. As you may have already surmised, empirical thinking leaves little room for the imagination to be nourished. It’s antithetical to the type of thinking that children engage in. Awe and wonderment become replaced with cynicism and skepticism, and new ideas are usually discarded before they have the chance to take root. Imagine how few scientific experiments would have ever been performed if each scientist was certain beforehand that nothing would turn out the way he/she wanted it to. I suspect Einstein would never have discovered his theory of relativity.