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Howard's End: Imagination Vs Knowledge

A high school student Scoop reader has responded to my Catching the Knowledge Wave column asking that I explain what I meant when I wrote, "imagination is more important than knowledge". Maree Howard responds.

When I was young, about 10 years-old, I remember asking all sorts of questions - What is the earth made of? How do birds soar? How does an earthworm crawl? Why does corn pop? Why does a diamond shine? And a thousand more like questions.

Even today, I stand in wonderment at how some members of the human family stood out and were able to imagine machines, long before they were invented, which could, for example, defy gravity and fly vertically or hover in one place - the helicopter - or, how they could imagine what eventually became the submarine, or an X-ray machine.

Then there's the computer, the cell phone etc. etc. These were imagined (dreamed) long before they became a reality.

A few of the answers to my questions I got from reading. For some, I got the answers while talking to my mum and dad and to my teachers. Some, I thought out for myself - not too well, I might add.

But what I was really learning was to THINK.

By using this natural capability in my brain - ever questioning, ever uncertain - I gathered up knowledge.

Almost forty five years has passed-by since I was 10 years old.

But I still remain engaged in asking - why? - and then seeking-out answers and solutions. It has been an extraordinary engagement and it has added abundantly to the fullness of my life - intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

It has freed me from the shackles of a closed mind and it has brought me closer to the wonderful things about us - things, of which many still remain uncounted, that make up the world of nature.

Firstly, in my young life, I was engaged in imagination and secondly, gathering knowledge - by asking questions, by reading, by talking, by trying to SEE when I looked, and trying to HEAR when I listened.

Now, with a reservoir of knowledge to draw upon, an UNDERSTANDING is slowly revealed. It has taken a half century for this to happen.

Lots of people know lots of things, but our understanding is frightfully weak. Before understanding can emerge a body of knowledge must exist to draw upon - a knowledge which supplement's and build's on a young imagination.

Yet, it's even more than that. I believe the human mind is designed for the intellectual process but this can only be nourished and enlivened by thought and contemplation.

There is in every human being what is beautifully expressed by the word - enthusiasm, which is from the Greek en theos - it means 'a god within', 'possessed by the gods'.

It is this spirit of 'en theos' which we all possess, but which few ever awaken.

But once it is awakened, it grows with unbounded fever and it can drive a girl or boy or a man or woman to wondrous things. I have seen it. A tiny spark can set the world aflame like the light of a single candle can pierce the darkness.

Yet enthusiasm cannot be gained from a book of knowledge. It is gained firstly from the imagination within.

There are things which are just things. That is, until someone questions, bringing to that question the passion which all living creatures possess but which too often lies hidden for want of proper stirring.

I found that to answer the questions of my young inquiring mind I had to put my imagination in gear.

I had to draw a picture in my mind, or on a piece of paper, or in the sand with my finger. I had to talk about it, and I often had to use my arms, and my feet; I flailed them, I got excited, I showed passion. Yes, and I talked to myself, and I got mad with it.

Soon, a faint light emerged - the light grows - and an understanding begins to emerge. Soon, too, the enthousiasmos - that divine possession - so long fettered by inactivity blossomed forth.

Leonardo put it well: "Quiet water becomes stagnant. Iron rusts from disuse. So does inactivity sap the vigour of the mind."

Our only purpose in life should not be just to learn the answers. There are numerous things which still might stir our imagination. And from that, comes knowledge, answers and solutions.

The Catching the Knowledge Wave conference is over. Now, there are things to do and solutions to find which will embrace our every breath and heartbeat and which are a source of constant wonder and beauty - if we are to have a future together.

Therefore, I hope you will be stirred as was Pascal, 'inflamed with desire'. That in your life to come you stir your imagination, awaken your interest, arouse your curiosity, enliven your spirit, all with the purpose of bringing you to ask as young Maxwell put it, "What's the go of it?" - or, as Kempler asked, "why things are as they are and not otherwise."

I urge you not to impair your imagination so that it resembles the wings of an ostrich. That would enbale you to run, but not to soar.

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