Knowledge versus Imagination – This is an ancient dichotomy. Knowledge is logical, stable and conservative; whereas, imagination is creative, colorful and rebellious. Knowledge is a stepping–stone to imagination; nevertheless, it is imagination that leads to emergence of new knowledge. So, what is more important? Einstein, through his afore-mentioned soundbite, favored imagination.
Consider one of the epoch-making episodes of last century.
1903, December 17th: Two hard-working Americans, Wright brothers, accomplished something fantastic and magical – invented a flying machine, the first airplane, opening the skies to all mankind.
This was one of the defining moments of the century and a fundamental turning point in history of mankind. What if the Wright brothers had no knowledge of flying objects, say birds? Could the Wright Brothers have invented the airplane? The answer to this question is perhaps – NO. However, going on the other side of argument, everybody then knew that “birds fly”. However, it was the craziest imagination of Wright brothers who “imagined” themselves flying that lead to this invention. Had it not been their imagination, could they have invented Airplane? The answer to this question is equally simple – NO.
Thinkers say our imagination is and must be grounded in our knowledge. I agree. However, I would put it this way - there is definite complementarity between the two, knowledge and imagination. I feel imagination forms the bridge between “knowledge” and “application”. As rightly stated by Einstein, “Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world”. Thus, between knowledge and imagination, imagination takes plus one.
To conclude, I feel Einstein’s nugget rightly asserts that imagination is more important than knowledge.