Imagination – it is what humans brought to this world telling stories around the around the campfire, working out how to live in the environment, learning from the past, picturing the future, solving the problems of day to day existence.

Then we humans embraced logic and the measurable tangibles and separated the artists from the scientists. For a while it seemed the imagination was destined for bins the bad old days before we were rescued by the wonders of The Age of Science.

This affected the practice of medicine and what we emphasized in education. The offspring who announced they were seeking to go to university and study in the sciences was greeted with approval.  Alas for the artsy student who wanted to study literature, be an artist or, heaven forbid, go into live theatre.

But the word is leaking out. The real leaps in discovery seemed to come with imagination!! From physicists and the brigade of Silicon Valley wizards, to Nike and the digital media folks. They imagine what might be and then worked out how to make it happen.

On Nov. 7, 2007, Cornell Professor of Science Communication Bruce Lewenstein presented a talk entitled “Imagination in Science.” ‘Scientists and engineers struggle with the role of “imagination” in science, regularly acknowledging the creative power of imagination in designing experiments, interpreting results and developing theories.’

Medicine began to approach the idea of incorporating the arts into healthcare. (There is an entire organization dedicated to that, researching and supporting that idea, The Society For Arts In Healthcare). There was something about the ‘immeasurable’ effects of the imagination and creativity on improved health and even treatment that seemed to work.

Just this week I read and heard two pieces I related to the topic of Imagination in Education, also called a Liberal Arts Education.

One was Reclaiming the Imagination, an article by philosopher Timothy Williamson on August 15 in the NYT Opinionator. He makes the point that the imagination is not just about fiction. but ‘… it is integral to our painful progress in separating fiction from fact. Although fiction is a playful use of imagination, not all uses of imagination are playful.’

On the 17th I listened to The Diane Rehm Show on the radio. She was speaking with Andrew Hacker, professor of Political Science at Queens College, New York, and co-author with New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus, of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It”

He urges that every undergraduate student major in the liberal arts, as a way of ‘wrestling with issues and ideas’. (from a 2010 interview in The Atlantic)

Also on the program was Mark Taylor, Education chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University and a former professor at Williams College. His latest book is titled, “Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming our Colleges and Universities.”

He urges that departments work across disciplines, focus on teaching rather than research and embrace options for learning (such as online networks of students from throughout the world.) A foundational underpinning of his plan seems to be thinking and learning creatively, using the imagination to open up the minds and opportunities of our students.

I taught in the theatre department of a Liberal Arts college for many years. (Linfield College, in Oregon) The development of the imagination (as actors and problem solving for a start) was equally matched by the skills to work collaboratively and with ever increasing levels of expertise in different aspects of theatre. The students who came from other disciplines to take that ‘cheap liberal arts credit’ were soon challenged, engaged and nurtured in an environment that both dared them to step outside their comfort zone at the same time as it let them play. Discipline and Imagination.

I believe that all students should be given that gift and indeed all of us be offered opportunities to continue to stretch and bring those together. It could improve your health, make you a more productive member of your workplace and certainly give you a moment to explore beyond and into places you have never dreamed of. Who knows? You may find that you are stronger, kinder and smarter than you knew.

In one of my early blogs, Exploring the Unknown , I mentioned Errol Morris’s NYT Opinionator  who wrote of The Anosognostic’s Dilemma.

Anosognosia is not knowing that you don’t know. To get beyond that, you really do need Imagination and yet all of human-kinds’ great developments, discoveries and knowledge had to begin there.

There is a generation of students and their teachers, who will be working with some extraordinary challenges in their lives. These are also Opportunities if we chose to use our imaginations and think of it that way. This requires that there is a generation with respect for the role of the imagination and the skills to bring that to whatever their specific field might be.

I close with this. Albert Einstein said: “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.”

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