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The Theory Of Knowledge

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1800 words Published: 16th May 2017

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Option 3; “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.” (Albert Einstein) Do you agree?

Alexandra Albers

Einstein’s quote is essentially a tautology, as it says the same thing twice. The statement defines, to a certain extent, both knowledge and imagination in such a manner that the claim is true by definition, making imagination the more important of the two definitions.

The claim can be seen as logical as it defines both issues; knowledge as being “limited to all we now know and understand” and imagination as “embracing the entire world”. Although both definitions can be seen as true as they are logical, does it make the statement true? And more importantly, does it make imagination more important than knowledge?

The statement speaks of the relative importance of knowledge and imagination, raising the question whether imagination is more important than knowledge. In order to address the issue effectively, we need to understand the issue of importance. Importance can be defined as something “of great significance or value” [CITATION Alb29 l 7177] , something that should be noted and paid attention to. This definition suggests that knowledge is more important than imagination as knowledge is reality. Everything we know and see as reality which to us has been confirmed through knowledge.

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Imagination can be defined as “the formation of a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses” [CITATION Alb29 l 7177] this suggests that imagination is an extension of knowledge rather than a replacement thereof. Knowledge is defined as “The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered or learned.” [CITATION Alb29 l 7177] Thus knowledge cannot exist without the necessary information and data that needs to be processed in order to acquire this knowledge in questioning its validity, truth and reliability.

Einstein’s full quote starts as follows; “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination” [CITATION Alb29 l 7177] this suggests that he was not saying that imagination is always of greater importance but rather that it played a vital role in his life as Einstein was a creative person this is emphasised by the fact that he says “I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” [CITATION Alb29 l 7177] This also shows the importance he sees in imagination and much of his work is probably reflected by his love for music.

Imagination plays a large role in the thought process, as we perceive things with perception and therefore the use of our senses. We then remember this thought in our minds and can then re-imagine this perception when we require the knowledge associated with the sense. Once we have this base of knowledge, we can then apply creative imagination to the original thought or prior perception for example when imagining an image of a flower for which you have acquired the knowledge of how it looks, only afterwards can one use creative imagination to add to this initial image when painting a picture or something similar and then using imagination to change the way it is seen in reality. Hence imagination can be used as an extension to knowledge. This suggests that knowledge is a base for imagination as imagination often stems from knowledge. For example, fairy tales and other fictional stories are as a result of the author’s imagination. The imagination which originated from the author’s basis for knowledge- their sense of perception. After the writer has acquired the base of the story, a firm grasp of language to communicate the imagination and other knowledge issues are required, without which the story would not exist. Many of these stories were also written with an underlying purpose or message. For example in little red riding hood the moral lesson of the story is not to talk to strangers and to be careful who you trust. Suggesting that this way of knowing provides the basis for the story. Ethics are an area of knowledge which In the case of fairy tales are described using emotion and language as these stories are designed to relate to the reader.

In order to write this story effectively, the author needs to have an understanding and knowledge of moral issues that he plans to address with his children’s book. Generally speaking, in order to have moral and ethical values, one needs knowledge of what is right or wrong. Although this is subjective knowledge and people therefore have different moral and ethical views, this is still an area of knowledge and something that one is taught as a child and can therefore be considered knowledge. These underlying messages can also be linked to emotion, as the writer must have felt strongly about this theme or message and this is a way of knowing and because he has emotions regarding the issue, it can be considered a form of knowledge.

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According to Einstein, the use of creative imagination to overthrow existing scientific theories when they become outdated and fail to cover known knowledge, imagination plays a role as it takes this base of knowledge and can improve upon it. Einstein is a conceptual physicist and therefore comes up with new scientific concepts using imagination and then develops it using knowledge. For example Einstein noticed the inadequacies of Newtonian mechanics and his theory of relativity was a result of his attempt to reconcile the laws of mechanics with those of the electromagnetic field. Dealing with statistical mechanics and problems merged with quantum theory, leading to Einstein’s Brownian motion theory. Einstein would have not have been able to do without his prior knowledge and areas of knowledge, including; science, maths and history of the atomic structure and the knowledge he gained from scientists before him. This suggests like in the case of Einstein, imagination requires a basis of knowledge, without which this imagination would be useless. Knowledge can be seen as a basis for imagination. Thus there are still certain cases in which imagination exists without former knowledge, for example Einstein’s theory of the relativity of time. Which suggests that time is relative and that time seems to go faster when one is doing something enjoyable than it does when one is simply waiting for time to pass. Einstein established this theory using his imagination. This shows that although there are only few such examples, there are still counterclaims to the argument that knowledge is more important than imagination.

Imagination might be part of knowledge, and vice versa, thereby suggesting that these terms are not separate, in which case, knowledge is not everything we now know. We acquire knowledge through the ways of knowing, which include emotion, reason, perception and language. For example, subjective knowledge is involved in emotion, as well as in imagination, therefore because everybody interprets an issue in their own way, knowledge cannot be limited to all we now know. Even Einstein’s definition of imagination includes the word ‘know’ suggesting that imagination is a part of knowledge.

Although imagination is in fact more flexible than knowledge, this does not make it of greater importance. For example, someone who is blind from birth and has never seen what we perceive as reality will not be able to imagine something that is normal for someone with perfect sight. This emphasises that knowledge is gained through perception and in this case sight, because we have this knowledge, it is easy for us to imagine an image that we have seen before. As the blind person would never have seen this image, they cannot imagine it. Therefore without this knowledge, imagination is of little importance. Thus a blind person Might imagine things differently as a person with full sight suggesting that they might even have a broader imagination as theirs is not limited to imperial knowledge, for example there are several extremely talented blind artists who make use of their heightened senses other than sight to produce an image of their imagination without the knowledge from sight. This shows that to a certain extent imagination can also be transformed into reality.

As explored throughout they essay it seems that although imagination and knowledge go hand in hand in most cases, imagination cannot exist without knowledge whereas knowledge can exist without imagination. Especially in the past where imagination was less important. Such as in tribes where the main objective was to sustain life by looking for food , as they did not have the necessary scientific apparatus, to investigate whether or not it was edible, people could only find out by eating the unknown plants and observing the effects on the people of the tribe. The tribes also observed the food that other animals in their environment ate and could then using logic derive that they could probably also eat the same plants. From these experiments and observations, the tribe people gained purely knowledge as they learned whether or not this plant can be eaten in the future.

In conclusion, I do not agree with the Albert Einstein quote as i find knowledge to be more important than imagination because in essence, as explored throughout the essay, imagination, unlike knowledge does not necessarily define or create an image of reality, but is rather an aspiration. Something that we imagine to be true rather than something that is true in reality. Knowledge on the other hand, is something true. Some confirmation of reality that we can accept to be true. Suggesting that reality is of greater importance than the ideal, which is imagination. Thus as shown throughout the essay, there are limitations and counter claims to both opinions of the relative importance of knowledge and imagination. This shows that they are essentially related.


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