Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge - Albert EinsteinMay 02, 2022
I’m learning to re-love the word faith. The word faith is fraught in modern society. It often connotes a denial of facts, skepticism of science, a woohoo approach to life. I’m experiencing it differently right now. I’m experiencing faith as the ability to discover the unseen, the finer things hidden from undiscerning eyes. Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is greater than knowledge.” I used to think he was talking about imagination in the childish sense: imaginary friends, being playful, willing to be delighted by the non-existent. But I don’t think that’s it. He’s talking about exploring concepts and realities that have yet to be discovered. He’s talking about creating in our minds the inventions, formulas or situations that have yet to come into being. It’s about creation.
We’ve moved into this old home owned by Emily’s aunt. It’s 120 years old. It needs a lot of work. It’s almost overwhelming to know where to start. Upstairs are three bedrooms. Emily’s aunt left her king size sleigh bed in the master bedroom. Toward the end of our first day I was exhausted. We’d unloaded the truck, put a bunch of stuff in storage, returned the truck and were doing our best to set-up house. I laid on this bed wondering where to begin on the nearly endless list of projects.
As I laid on that bed looking around, I could see myself pulling up the carpet in the middle bedroom. It was completely empty. That would be an easy place to start. We could pull out the ugly orange shag carpet and see if the floors underneath were salvageable. Next I wanted to make some headway in the master bedroom. Two of the four walls are covered by wood panels that sit out about six inches from the actual brick walls of the home. The wood paneling is covered by some custom shelves. I wanted to remove one set of shelves and then pull back a board or two of the wood panels and see what was behind them. I decided to do these tasks after dinner, when my other work and priorities were done.
That evening, after dinner, we went upstairs and starting pulling up carpet. The first layer was easy. Then we discovered a second, much older layer of carpet beneath it. This second layer was glued to the original wood floor and started to pull up the actual wood grain. We hit the pause button. We wanted to do some more research before going further. I went into the master bedroom and started to remove the shelves. Turns out they were attached to the wall, top, middle and bottom. It took a lot more effort to remove them than I thought. Once we did, the boards behind were loose enough that I could easily remove one panel. Inside the wall, we found the trim molding and counter weights that used to be attached to the original windows. The brick walls behind were in excellent shape. Although somewhat discouraged by the second layer of carpet, we’d learned a ton about what was beneath and behind the surface. Most importantly, I had done the thing I’d imagined in my mind.
This is a basic example of what Einstein is talking about, but I believe this is the same process we all use to create and shape our futures. This is the source of invention, discovery and growth. I laid on that bed and was able to think. I visualized in my mind the process of pulling up the carpet, removing the shelves, and peering behind the wood panels. I didn’t know what I would find as I did those things, but that’s not the point. The point was I could see myself doing those initial tasks. This is what I mean by faith. It is a principle of action and power.
You do this all the time. You wake up, get dressed, brush your teeth, and continue through a whole series of activities that were once foreign and awkward. You were once a baby, and now you do so many intricate and complicated things. You read and write, speak and listen. Where it goes from there splinters into a million different pathways dependent on your interests, talents, confidence, curiosity, resources, community and culture.
What can you see yourself doing?
Yes, yes. You can see yourself doing all the things you’ve done before or do every day.
What else can you see yourself doing that you’ve never done before?
Emily and I have never owned a home before. Real estate has never made sense to us, especially starting out in NYC right out of college. It was just beyond us and then we’ve stayed put. I’ve actually said, hundreds of times, “I don’t know that I ever want to own a home.” I can give all my reasons another time, but the point is, I couldn’t see myself owning a home. Largely because I didn’t want to own a home. When this home came available, it made sense—again for a variety of reasons I won’t go into now. Most importantly, I could see myself owning this home. It wasn’t nebulous. It was specific. I could imagine it. Imagination is more important than knowledge.
I’m fascinated by this cycle faith and function.
I’m fascinated by the truth that behavior follows belief.
Action follows assumptions.
What do you believe you can do? That’s exactly what you will do.
What do you believe is possible. That is your limit.
What can you see yourself doing that you’ve never done before? That’s the most important question. This power is a double edged sword. This is the space of “doing the unthinkable.”
“Doing the unimaginable.”
This is where humanities greatest atrocities occur. We call it the "unimaginable" because we cannot imagine it, but someone can. For example, Putin in the Ukraine. You better believe he could see himself invading Ukraine long before it happened. He lay in bed at night thinking about it. Imagination is greater than knowledge. This is also the space of ultimate human achievement.
This is where someone runs the first four-minute mile.
This is where we put a man on the moon.
This is where someone receives the first heart transplant.
This is where we find the strength to forgive someone and also forgive ourselves.
It happens in our imagination first.
Imagination is not childish. It is among the great powers of the universe. It is where we sift ideas and draft the blueprints that become the skyscrapers and dream homes of our lives.
The whole quote from Einstein is “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Imagination takes us into the vast space of what is yet to be discovered, learned and experienced. Is there anything bigger?
I believe I have the capacity to fix up this house and make it beautiful. I have faith in that. I am working to imagine it, to see it in my mind’s eye. I believe it will fit into the larger plan for our family.
What do you believe you can do?
How can you grow your belief?
How can you strengthen your imagination?
Maybe lay on the bed and let your mind wander.
Let your mind explore the possibilities.
Don’t shut yourself down as you do.
Just let it explore.
Expand the size of your dreams.
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