Imagination is More Important than Knowledge: Essay Example

Imagination is more important than knowledge: essay introduction, imagination is better than knowledge: essay body, imagination is more important than knowledge: conclusion.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” is a famous quote of Albert Einstein. There are only a couple of words in this line, but if we think logically, it encloses the whole world. Imagination is a bequest of life and is indeed far more significant than knowledge. If we have the capability of imagining things, we can craft our world.

Imagination is not significant just for us as individuals but also for the community in general. It can also be interpreted as the fundamental element of theology and can be better articulated through contemplation. There have been great philosophers in the past who imagined the unattainable, and today our societies have certain values that are very relevant.

Simultaneously to be very dominant, imagination is also very risky. It all depends on the direction towards which we orient our imagination. Just like in the case of fire, if it becomes uncontrollable, it spells havocs, but if it is harnessed properly, it contributes to the development and wellbeing of the people. So our imagination should be oriented towards the positive or constructive direction rather than the negative or destructive one.

On the one hand, where positive approach in imagination improves life values, standards and progress, the negative approach is bound to lead the individuals towards fake things and feelings such as panic, intolerance, nervousness, etc. In the negative imagination, people lose their interface with the truth.

All the inventions and developments that have today become inseparable parts of our lives are results of positive imagination only. Some people imagined these things and converted them into reality. Human beings owe the transformation from Stone Age to being civilized to positive imagination. This is what positive imagination can do.

Knowledge is also important because simply by imagining things, one cannot convert them into reality. An intellectual mind is required for such tasks. But without imagination, knowledge would be of no use. We would be stagnant as far as development is concerned.

Like for instance, if Thomas Alva Edison were aware of the light (current) generating system but didn’t have the foresight to make useful things, then today we would not have the so important thing called bulb. Imagination is the foundation of contentment and pleasure in our lives. It provides us with lots of amusement, leisure and above all makes us more lively and humane.

Knowledge can be gained from various textbooks and lectures, but what about innovation? Unless we combine innovation and knowledge, there is no point in studying. Innovation comes from imagination, and imagination cannot be learned at schools or colleges. To put it more strongly, imagination is a revolution – in a good sense – and dominant, whereas knowledge is merely an attained instrument.

It is always good to acquire knowledge, but having the ability to imagine is far more important and inevitable. By acquiring knowledge, we learn things, but my imagination, we learn how to comprehend the things that we have learned. This comprehension further increases our knowledge.

Above all, the knowledge that we acquire is again a result of imagination. We don’t get knowledge out of knowledge but out of imagination that guides us to knowledge. So imagination is a sort of concierge to knowledge. We cannot gain knowledge unless we have imagination. So imagination is more important than knowledge.

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Essay on Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Students are often asked to write an essay on Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Understanding imagination and knowledge.

Imagination and knowledge are both important. Knowledge is the collection of facts and information, while imagination helps us create new ideas.

Imagination’s Role

Imagination is crucial because it allows us to think beyond what we know. It helps us dream, invent, and solve problems.

Knowledge’s Limitations

Knowledge has limits. It’s confined to what we’ve learned and experienced. It doesn’t allow for new possibilities like imagination does.

While knowledge is important, imagination is more so. It leads us to new discoveries, innovations, and a better future.

250 Words Essay on Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

The supremacy of imagination.

Imagination is the driving force behind innovation and advancement. While knowledge is the accumulation of facts and data, imagination transcends the realm of the known, venturing into the universe of possibilities. Albert Einstein famously stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the world.”

Limitations of Knowledge

Knowledge, though vital, is inherently restrictive. It is confined to what is already known, discovered, or understood. Our knowledge is based on past experiences and learned information, which, although crucial, can limit our perspective to the existing reality.

Unleashing Potential with Imagination

Contrarily, imagination is boundless. It enables us to envision scenarios beyond the constraints of reality, paving the way for groundbreaking ideas and extraordinary innovations. Imagination fuels creativity, leading to advancements in diverse fields like technology, arts, and science.

The Interplay of Imagination and Knowledge

Despite their disparities, imagination and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. Knowledge serves as a foundation upon which imagination can build. It provides the raw materials that imagination can transform into novel concepts.

In conclusion, while knowledge equips us with the tools to understand and navigate the world, it is imagination that empowers us to reshape it. Emphasizing the importance of imagination doesn’t undermine the value of knowledge; instead, it encourages us to transcend the known and explore the realm of possibilities. Hence, imagination, with its ability to envision, innovate, and inspire, holds a higher pedestal than knowledge.

500 Words Essay on Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

The power of imagination.

Imagination is an integral part of human cognition, serving as a catalyst for creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. It is the mental faculty that allows us to transcend the confines of our immediate reality, enabling us to explore limitless possibilities. Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

Imagination Versus Knowledge

Knowledge is undoubtedly crucial. It is the accumulation of facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education. It empowers us to understand the world around us, make informed decisions, and perform various tasks. However, knowledge is fundamentally limited to what is known and understood.

On the other hand, imagination is boundless. It is not confined to the realm of the known but ventures into the unknown, the unexplored, and the yet-to-be-invented. Imagination fuels innovation, pushing us to challenge the status quo and create something new. It is the driving force behind scientific discoveries, technological advancements, and artistic creations.

The Role of Imagination in Progress

Imagination plays a pivotal role in societal and technological progress. The greatest inventors, scientists, and artists were not just knowledgeable; they were imaginative. They dared to envision a different world and then used their knowledge to make it a reality.

Consider the example of the Wright Brothers. Their knowledge of physics and engineering was essential, but it was their imagination that enabled them to conceive the possibility of human flight. Similarly, Einstein’s theory of relativity was a product of his ‘thought experiments’ – a testament to the power of imagination in scientific discovery.

Imagination in Education

In the realm of education, imagination is equally crucial. It fosters curiosity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It encourages students to approach problems from different perspectives, fostering innovative solutions.

While knowledge provides the foundation, imagination allows students to go beyond rote learning and engage in experiential and creative learning. It promotes a deeper understanding of concepts, facilitating the application of knowledge in real-world scenarios.

In conclusion, while knowledge is essential, it is imagination that truly propels us forward. It is the engine of progress, the catalyst for innovation, and the spark that ignites the flame of discovery. As we navigate an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, imagination – the ability to envision new possibilities and create novel solutions – will be more important than ever. Thus, we should strive to cultivate not just knowledge but also a rich and vibrant imagination.

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Albert Einstein: 'Imagination is more important than knowledge.'

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. These profound words spoken by Albert Einstein encapsulate the essence of human creativity and the limitless possibilities that lie within our minds. At first glance, one might argue that knowledge is the backbone of progress and the fuel for innovation. After all, knowledge provides us with the foundation upon which we build new ideas and make scientific advancements. However, upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that imagination, with its transformative power and ability to transcend conventional boundaries, is what drives us to explore uncharted territories and make groundbreaking discoveries.Knowledge, although undeniably crucial, is inherently limited by the information that we acquire through education, experience, and observation. It serves as the framework that lays the groundwork for our understanding of the world. Without knowledge, we would be lost in a sea of ignorance, unable to comprehend the complex systems and principles that govern our reality. But it is through imagination that we break free from the confines of existing knowledge and venture into uncharted intellectual territory.Imagination is the catalyst for innovation and progress. It enables us to conceive of new ideas, envision things that do not yet exist, and challenge the status quo. Imagination is the driving force behind scientific breakthroughs, technological advancements, and artistic creations. It empowers us to ask "what if" questions and explore the possibilities that lie beyond the boundaries of what is currently known. Without imagination, our knowledge would remain stagnant, and we would be deprived of the marvels that have shaped our world.Now, let us introduce an unexpected philosophical concept to delve deeper into the dynamics between imagination and knowledge: reality. Reality, as we perceive it, is a product of both knowledge and imagination. Our understanding of the world is contingent upon the knowledge we possess, which allows us to interpret and make sense of our surroundings. Yet, it is through imagination that we can challenge the limitations of our current reality and envision alternate possibilities.Consider the concept of time travel, for instance. While our current understanding of the laws of physics may restrict the feasibility of this notion, it is through the power of imagination that we can explore the intricacies of time travel, speculate about its mechanisms, and even delve into the philosophical implications it would have on our existence. Imagination allows us to break free from the constraints of the known, inviting us to question, hypothesize, and push the boundaries of what is perceived as reality.In a sense, imagination is the bridge between what we know and what we aspire to discover. It serves as the creative medium through which knowledge can be expanded. It is the spark that ignites scientific curiosity, artistic expression, and human progress as a whole. Imagination encourages us to embrace unexpected connections, pursue unconventional paths, and challenge the rigidity of established paradigms.In conclusion, Albert Einstein's quote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," prompts us to acknowledge the paramount role that imagination plays in shaping our world. While knowledge provides us with the foundation upon which progress is built, it is through imagination that we transcend the boundaries of existing knowledge and venture into the realm of possibility. Imagination ignites our curiosity, fuels our creativity, and pushes the boundaries of what we perceive as reality. Embracing our imaginative capacities is not only essential for personal growth and fulfillment but also critical for the advancement of societies as we continue to explore the infinite potential of the human mind.

Charles de Lint: 'I want to touch the heart of the world and make it smile.'

Jerzy kosinski: 'the principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.'.

March 20, 2010

Post Perspective

Albert Einstein: “Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge”

Albert Einstein wants you to know that everything is NOT relative, America is a great country, and he might have been a happy, mediocre fiddler if he hadn't become a genius in physics.

Jeff Nilsson

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imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

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In this 1929 interview with a Post reporter, Albert Einstein discussed the role of relativity, why he thought nationalism was the “measles of mankind,” and how he might have become a happy, mediocre fiddler if he hadn’t become a genius in physics.

When a Post correspondent interviewed Albert Einstein about his thought process in 1929, Einstein did not speak of careful reasoning and calculations. Instead —

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am… [but] I would have been surprised if I had been wrong “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Something else that was circling the globe in that year was Einstein’s reputation. At the time of this interview, his fame had spread across Europe and America. Everywhere he was acclaimed a genius for defining the principles of relativity, though very few people understood what they meant.

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Imagination may have been essential to his breakthrough thinking, but Einstein’s discovery also rested on his vast knowledge of physical science. Knowledge and imagination let him see the relationship between space, time, and energy. Using mathematics, he developed a model for understanding how objects and light behave in extreme conditions — as in the subatomic world, where the old Newtonian principles didn’t appear to work.

Whenever Einstein explained his work to the popular press, though, reporters got lost in his talk of space-time continuum, absolute speed of light, and E=Δmc 2 . So they used their own imaginations to define relativity. One of their misinterpretations was the idea that relativity meant everything is relative. The old absolutes were gone. Nothing was certain anymore.

It was a ridiculous interpretation that could only have made sense if newspaper readers were no bigger than a proton, or could travel near the speed of light.

This misperception was so common that the Post writer used it to start his interview.

“Relativity! What word is more symbolic of the age? We have ceased to be positive of anything. We look upon all things in the light of relativity. Relativity has become the plaything of the parlor philosopher.”

Einstein, as always, patiently clarified his concept.

“‘The meaning of relativity has been widely misunderstood, Philosophers play with the word, like a child with a doll. Relativity, as I see it, merely denotes that certain physical and mechanical facts, which have been regarded as positive and permanent, are relative with regard to certain other facts in the sphere of physics and mechanics. It does not mean that everything in life is relative and that we have the right to turn the whole world mischievously topsy-turvy.'”

The world of the early 20th Century certainly felt like it was being inverted — with or without relativity.  Even as Einstein was developing his theory about the space-time continuum and the nature of light, old Europe was dying in record numbers. Just a few weeks before Einstein released his general theory of relativity in 1916, the German Imperial Army began its assault at Verdun. In the ensuing, ten-month battle, France and Germany suffered 800,000 casualties. Four months later, the British launched their catastrophic attack at the Somme and suffered 58,000 casualties in a single day.

Doctor Einstein accompanying Mrs. Einstein's piano song with his violin.

The survivors of these debacles were disillusioned by the waste of this war, and the peace that followed. The youth of Europe and America were looking for new truths. The old ones seemed empty and especially lethal to young men. They saw how noble sacrifice could be used for political ends. And they had seen how virtue and faith fared against massed machine guns.

This “Relativity” they read about seemed promising, if it meant that thousands wouldn’t have to die needlessly, of that could live beyond the limiting moral codes of their parents.

Einstein, himself, didn’t indulge in any of this relativism.  He was a man of strong beliefs, not equivocations. For instance, his love of music was absolute.

“‘If… I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin.'” “Einstein’s taste in music is severely classical. Even Wagner is to him no unalloyed feast of the ears. He adores Mozart and Bach. He even prefers their work to the architectural music of Beethoven.”

He disagreed with the traditional Jewish concept of free will.

“I am a determinist. As such, I do not believe in free will. The Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine philosophically. In that respect I am not a Jew… Practically, I am nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being.”

He never expressed any belief in a personal God, but he believed in the historical Jesus — not the popularized prophet such as appeared in a best-selling biography by Emil Ludwig.

“Ludwig’s Jesus,” Einstein replied, “is shallow. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot .” “You accept the historical existence of Jesus?” “Unquestionably. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus.”

Einstein was no relativist on the subject of nationalism, which he saw grow violent and intolerant from his Berlin home.

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

It was different in the United States, he believed.

“Nationalism in the United States does not assume such disagreeable forms as in Europe. This may be due partly to the fact that your country is so immense, that you do not think in terms of narrow borders. It may be due to the fact that you do not suffer from the heritage of hatred or fear which poisons the relations of the nations of Europe.”

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Three years later, Einstein fled Germany to seek asylum in the United States, where he became a citizen in 1940. (Not for the last time, America was enriched by the intolerance of other countries.)

It is interesting to see how Einstein viewed America three years before he made it his new home.

“In America, more than anywhere else, the individual is lost in the achievements of the many. America is beginning to be the world leader in scientific investigation. American scholarship is both patient and inspiring. The Americans show an unselfish devotion to science, which is the very opposite of the conventional European view of your countrymen.
“Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves. It is not true that the dollar is an American fetish. The American student is not interested in dollars, not even in success as such, but in his task, the object of the search. It is his painstaking application to the study of the infinitely little and infinitely large.”

The only criticism Einstein could find for America was its emphasis on homogenizing its citizens into a single type.

“Standardization robs life of its spice. To deprive every ethnic group of its special traditions is to convert the world into a huge Ford plant. I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture.”

Read “What Life Means to Einstein,” by George Sylvester Viereck. Published October 26, 1929 [PDF].

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I can be updated with any new informations regarding Albert Einstein discovery about Physics

Without imagination, there would be no knowledge. If imagination didn’t exist, the computar wouldn’t exist. None of Alberts’ creations would exist. The lightbuld wouldn’t exist, NOTHING would exist. If there was no imagination, everybody would the same, there would be no such thing an opinion. Life would be boring. That’s just the final truth. Goodbye.

Is imagination no longer relative to science?

Just check out the major U.S. search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask) for the search term: A concept of space and time You will find the same imagination-based essay at the TOP of each list of many millions of web sites.

Strangely, reference to this same concept has yet been hard to find in any scientific journal. What happened to imagination?

Albert Einstein did theorize Relativity as a fact. And it should come as no surprise That humans seek by thought and act To make the concept fit the way That each one imagines as true. And so the term gets lots of play As all the many think and do, And play with truth as though a toy. In time and space he occupied, What in his life was greatest joy? To which Dr. Einstein replied,

“My sweetest relativity -” “Making music with Mrs. E.”

Not sure what the inclusion of “d” represents regarding Einstein’s mathematical expression of energy’s relationship to matter. The revised formula sounds a lot like a new rap group. Acceptance of the reality of Relativity does not foster moral ambiguity–unless, of course, you believe a hammer is the same thing as a guiding principle. This is one of Nilsson’s better articles–though I’ve always liked all things Einstein. Had a grandfather who resembled the humble genius quite closely.

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Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

  • Essays, Outlines
  • Aug 23, 2023
  • Noshin Bashir

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

The statement “Imagination is more important than knowledge” is attributed to Albert Einstein. This reflects the role of creativity and imaginative thinking in the pursuit of understanding and innovation. It is the human imagination that derives innovation, instills creativity, generates hypotheses and theories, and evolves understanding skills.

It is not knowledge but imagination that sparks curiosity, driving scientists to ask questions and explore new areas of research. The statement emphasizes that it’s the ability to think creatively and imagine new scenarios that propel human beings forward in understanding and progress.

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

To commence, the quote suggests that imagination plays a crucial role in driving innovation and progress. While knowledge provides a foundation, it’s the ability to imagine new possibilities, connections, and solutions that lead to breakthroughs.

Take the example of the invention of smartphones that revolutionized the fields of communication and information. Combining features like a phone, camera, music player, and internet browser into a single device was an imaginative leap that transformed into reality. Also, 3D printing technology that allows for the creation of physical objects from digital designs is yet another creation from an imaginative thought process. This innovation has revolutionized manufacturing.

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

In addition to that, imagination has the power to transcend existing knowledge and boundaries. It allows individuals to explore ideas and concepts that might not yet be supported by established facts or theories.

Imagination enables creative problem-solving. When faced with challenges, people who can imagine alternative approaches are often better equipped to find unique solutions that may not be immediately apparent through factual knowledge alone. Imagination can help you grasp concepts like rhythm, harmonics, and scales, enhancing your understanding of both math and music.

Apart from that, imagination can inspire a thirst for knowledge. When individuals can envision the possibilities that expanding their knowledge might open up, they are more motivated to learn and explore.

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Lastly, scientific discoveries often begin with imaginative ideas about how things might work. Imagination is the driving force behind forming these hypotheses and then testing them through experimentation and observation. Imagination is the driving force behind scientific exploration and innovation.

It encourages scientists to think beyond the known and imagine possibilities that challenge conventional wisdom, resulting in the advancement of human understanding and the improvement of our world. It is the power of imagination that encourages scientists to draw upon knowledge from different fields, fostering interdisciplinary insights and collaborations. Moreover, imagination sparks curiosity, driving scientists to ask questions and explore new areas of research.

In essence, imagination is by far more important than knowledge because without imagination there would be nothing like curiosity, innovation, future predictions, and thoughtful experiments. Someone has rightly said that imagination is the eye of the soul. It is the beginning of creation.

Read Also: The One Who Uses Force Is Afraid Of Reasoning

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Quote Investigator®

Tracing Quotations

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many websites credit Albert Einstein with this statement:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

I am skeptical. Are these the words of Einstein?

Quote Investigator: This remark apparently was made by Einstein during an interview that was published in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1929. Here is an excerpt showing the context of his comment. The first paragraph below records Einstein’s words; the next sentence is the interviewer speaking; the final paragraph is Einstein speaking again. Boldface has been added to the following passage and some excerpts further below: [1] 1929 October 26, The Saturday Evening Post, What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck, Start Page 17, Quote Page 117, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, … Continue reading

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. When two expeditions of scientists, financed by the Royal Academy, went forth to test my theory of relativity, I was convinced that their conclusions would tally with my hypothesis. I was not surprised when the eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed my intuitions. I would have been surprised if I had been wrong.” “Then you trust more to your imagination than to your knowledge?” “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1931 the book “Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein was published. This volume contained the same saying, but the surrounding text was phrased somewhat differently: [2] 2009, “Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein, Quote Page 97, Dover Publication, Mineola, New York. (This Dover edition is an unabridged … Continue reading

At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact, I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.

The New York Times reviewed “Cosmic Religion” in March 1931 and the statement about imagination was memorable enough that it was reprinted in the review: [3] 1931 March 8, New York Times, Opinions and Aphorisms of Albert Einstein, Quote Page 66, (Book review of “Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein), New York. … Continue reading

He frankly admits that he believes “in intuition and inspiration,” and adds: “At times I feel certain I am right without knowing the reason,” and he declares that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”

In conclusion, evidence indicates that the quotation is accurate, and it appeared in an interview of Albert Einstein conducted by George Sylvester Viereck in 1929.

Economic Sociology & Political Economy

Economic Sociology & Political Economy

The global community of academics, practitioners, and activists – led by dr. oleg komlik, albert einstein on the power of ideas and imagination in science.

Albert Einstein

“In nearly every detective novel since the admirable stories of Conan Doyle there comes a time when the investigator has collected all the facts he needs for at least some phase of his problem. These facts often seem quite strange, incoherent, and wholly unrelated. The great detective, however, realizes that no further investigation is needed at the moment, and that only pure thinking will lead to a correlation of the facts collected. So he plays his violin, or lounges in his armchair enjoying a pipe, when suddenly, by Jove, he has it! Not only does he have an explanation for the clues at hand but he knows that certain other events must have happened. Since he now knows exactly where to look for it, he may go out, if he likes, to collect further confirmation for his theory (pp. 4-5)… It is a familiar fact to readers of detective fiction that a false clue muddles the story and postpones the solution (6)… Intuitive conclusions based on immediate observation are not always to be trusted, for they sometimes lead to the wrong clues. But where does intuition go wrong? (7)… In a good mystery story the most obvious clues often lead to the wrong suspects… the most obvious intuitive explanation is often the wrong one (9)… Science must create its own language, its own concepts, for its own use . Scientific concepts often begin with those used in ordinary language for the affairs, of everyday life, but they develop quite differently. They are transformed and lose the ambiguity associated with them in ordinary language, gaining in rigorousness so that they may be applied to scientific thought (14)… Our interest here lies in the first stages of development, in following initial clues, in showing how new… concepts are born in the painful struggle with old ideas. We are concerned only with pioneer work in science, which consists of finding new and unexpected paths of development; with the adventures in scientific thought which create an ever-changing picture of the universe. The initial and fundamental steps are always of a revolutionary character. Scientific imagination finds old concepts too confining, and replaces them by new ones. The continued development along any line already initiated is more in the nature of evolution, until the next turning point is reached when a still newer field must be conquered. In order to understand, however, what reasons and what difficulties force a change in important concepts, we must know not only the initial clues, but also the conclusions which can be drawn (28)… Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. To follow up these ideas demands the knowledge of a highly refined technique of investigation (29)… Nearly every great advance in science arises from a crisis in the old theory, through an endeavour to find a way out of the difficulties created. We must examine old ideas, old theories, although they belong to the past, for this is the only way to understand the importance of the new ones and the extent of their validity. In the first pages of our book we compared the role of an investigator to that of a detective who, after gathering the requisite facts, finds the right solution by pure thinking. In one essential this comparison must be regarded as highly superficial. Both in life and in detective novels the crime is given. The detective must look for letters, fingerprints, bullets, guns, but at least he knows that a murder has been committed. This is not so for a scientist…. For the detective the crime is given, the problem formulated: who killed Cock Robin? The scientist must, at least in part, commit his own crime, as well as carry out the investigation. Moreover, his task is not to explain just one case, but all phenomena which have happened or may still happen (77-8)… Yet we may choose to be conservative and seek a solution [to a result that shakes our belief] within the frame of old ideas. Difficulties of this kind, sudden and unexpected obstacles in the triumphant development of a theory, arise frequently in science. Sometimes a simple generalization of the old ideas seems, at least temporarily, to be a good way out… Very often, however, it is impossible to patch up an old theory, and the difficulties result in its downfall and the rise of a new one (93-4)… The formulation  of a problem is often more essential than its solution , which may be merely a matter of… experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires  creative imagination and marks real advance in science (95)… Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a sky scraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering new connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our way up (159)… Science forces us to create new ideas, new theories. Their aim is to break down the wall of contradictions which frequently blocks the way of scientific progress. All the essential ideas in science were born in a dramatic conflict between reality and our attempts at understanding. Here again is a problem for the solution of which new principles are needed (280)… The association of solved problems with those unsolved may throw new light on our difficulties by suggesting new ideas. It is easy to find a superficial analogy which really expresses nothing. But to discover some essential common features, hidden beneath a surface of external differences, to form, on this basis, a new successful theory, is important creative work ” ( Einstein and Infeld  1938: 286-7 ).

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Very interesting topic, from my earlier years of teaching at Universities I was familiar with Albert Einstein’s writings not precisely about physics but many articles in contemporary subjects related to the human thinking, social, political or cultural. His brilliant mind was obviously open to a variety of social or historical contemporary problems of his own time. In my understanding he as scientific did not isolated his own system of though or his dialectical methodology to analysed the human society, ethics and even politics. There is a concatenation in Einstein thinking of the Universo phenomena in which he can be an isolated investigator of the realities, social, physic or natural. Theory then is a system of thought like “…a house which, right after being built and decorated, requieres of its upkeep an effort more or less vigorous but assiduous (depending of the negative effects of the elements). At a certain point in time it is not worth to continuing repairing, and we must take the decision to demolished and started it from cero. In the system of thought then perpetually new house is perpetually maintained by the old one which almost through a feat of magic, persist in the new. In conclusion: mankind system of thinking is as one philosopher approached is a subsequent and unlimited attempts to demolish those truths that are understood implicitly. white others need to be reconsidered and integrated.

it is an outstanding theory.

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Is imagination more important than knowledge? Einstein

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Berlin, 1929. The poet and journalist George Sylvester Viereck has charmed an interview out of an initially reluctant superstar physicist¹. He asks: "How do you account for your discoveries? Through intuition or inspiration?" Albert Einstein replies:

"Both. I sometimes feel I am right, but do not know it. When two expeditions of scientists went to test my theory I was convinced they would confirm my theory. I wasn't surprised when the results confirmed my intuition, but I would have been surprised had I been wrong. I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

Knowledge versus imagination. Einstein's aphorism  reflects a recurrent theme in human thought. The ancient dichotomy between what we know and what we dream, intuit or sense by instinct is found, in some form, in every field of human intellectual endeavour. It is seen in the contrast between rationalist and mystic interpretations of the world's great religions, between realism and surrealism in the visual arts and between the brutal number-crunching of much experimental physics and the feathery abstractions of superstring and membrane theory.

Artists, geniuses and other rebellious spirits have often claimed imagination as their territory. Knowledge, that dull conviction resulting from a brush with reality, is black-and-white, logical, stable, conservative – the domain of curators and  accountants. Your view of which is more important will depend on your personality. The relevant distinction was best captured not by a psychology text but by a history book (of sorts): in their discussion of the English Civil War, Sellars and Yeatman famously described the Cavaliers as "wrong but wromantic" and the Roundheads as "right and repulsive". Who'd be a Roundhead? Who won the Civil War?

Like many dichotomies, this one is an oversimplification. We know that the brilliance of many great artists was grounded in years of hard training; we know some excitingly imaginative museums and some highly creative accountants. Throughout our development as a species we have relied on a blend of imagination and knowledge. Both are valuable. What then is the relationship between them?

Metaphors are plentiful. Knowledge is a stepping stone to imagination; it stands to imagination as honeycomb does to honey; knowledge and imagination are enemies, or independent strands in the web of our mental lives. The Oxford English Dictionary states that imagination involves "forming a mental concept of what is not actually present to the senses". But the full flavour of Einstein's aphorism eludes this definition. I can form a mental concept of what I ate at last week's dinner party, though it is no longer present to any of my senses (even those rarely-discussed but useful ones which signal the state of my bowels). Imagination is something more than memory, something novel: adding a movie star or picturing the guests without their clothes.

Knowledge concerns itself with what is present to the senses, but is also a stored and shared repository of publicly acceptable thoughts, many frozen into physical symbols (written or spoken), transmitted through time and space. Knowledge coded, stored and expressed using symbols can, because of the entrancing flexibility of symbol systems, be broken up and reassembled in a multitude of novel combinations. It is this act of recombination which underlies the power to imagine. Our imagination is and must be grounded in our knowledge. The more memories we accumulate, the more material we have to work with, the richer and stranger are the fruits of our imagination.

Imagination, however, is not just the recombination of stored experiences. Such recombination happens every night even in organisms blessed with much less cortex than human beings. What distinguishes us is our capacity for controlled and wakeful dreaming. This is a useful survival aid, helping us to solve problems, anticipate challenges and conceive alternatives. But we have turned imagination into much more – a good in itself. Like money, sex or drugs, we use it to satisfy our needs, flaunt our wealth and status, tighten our social bonds, or distract us from realities we would rather avoid.

The comparison with drugs implies the risk of addiction, and indeed, our urge to imagine, and to consume the products of other people's imagination, can sometimes become extreme. Reality can be a bleak place, especially for those who lack the essential antidote: love. When depression sets in, an individual may lose the strength to use imagination to counteract the automatic, overwhelmingly negative thoughts characteristic of the condition. The products of others' imaginations provide an alternative.

A best-selling page-turner or fast-paced movie thriller draws us into another world. These fake worlds, from the fantasy of Harry Potter to the horror of Hannibal Lecter, have two ingredients in common which make them attractive to millions. Firstly, they provide an opportunity for "losing" oneself in an absorption where consciousness of self-as-independent-entity disappears: a sweet, safe, temporary death. Secondly, they deny Darwin, confirming Eliot's view that "humankind cannot bear too much reality". In a fake world the hero or heroine is special and recognised as such by others. An uncaring universe cannot destroy them, indeed, they are at its centre; if they die the fake world dies with them. Voldemort focuses on attacking Harry Potter, Lecter on tantalising yet protecting his adversary Clarice Starling. Identifying with a person who interests such potent beings does no harm to the self-esteem. In some individuals such cognitive massage can become an obsession in a world where the public ideal is super-confidence.

Here again we see the complementarity of imagination and knowledge. At both group and individual levels, knowledge facilitates community and continuity, while imagination facilitates change. Knowledge binds us to a sometimes-oppressive existence; imagination helps us escape it. However, imagination evolved as a tool for facilitating survival. Imagining, we take a step beyond what we know into the future or into another world. We see alternatives and possibilities; we work out what we need to reach our goals. Unhooked from reality, imagination no longer serves these life-enhancing purposes. Without new knowledge to feed it and keep it in check, it can become sterile and even dangerous: in Hume's words, "nothing but sophistry and illusion".

Another measurable way of thinking about the balance between imagination and knowledge (the "I/K ratio") is to consider each as private or public, individual or group. Wittgenstein famously argued that language is essentially public, requiring consensus about the use of its symbols in order to maintain consistency in meaning over time. One might say the same about knowledge: it must derive from experience in a way which can in principle be reproduced by others. Imagination is a private thing, the leap of a single brain from established fact to exciting novelty.

Again the dichotomy is too simplistic. Knowledge strengthens group bonding, but the emergence of new knowledge in, for example, the sciences can threaten a group's very existence. Imagination can challenge rules and traditions by putting information together in novel ways; yet shared acts of imagination can also help to strengthen intra-group bonds. Try daydreaming: generate for yourself a coherent story of your own invention, follow it through from beginning to end. Unless you are a professional storyteller you will probably find it extremely difficult to avoid drifting into other thoughts or even falling asleep. We think of ourselves as the only species capable of controlled dreaming, but in fact it is hard to keep control unless we make our dreams public. The greatest acts of imagination – from Bach's Cello Suites or Milan Cathedral to Star Wars or Günther van Hagen's Bodyworlds – require not only creation but admiration: they depend for their impact on being heard, seen and understood within a cultural context built up over hundreds of years by thousands of people.

Was Einstein right? Is imagination more important than knowledge? As our realities become more complex we seem increasingly to prefer imagination, but that preference is culture-dependent. Imagination flourishes when its products are highly valued. Leisure, wealth and a degree of political stability are prerequisites for the freedom essential to creativity and for the use of artistic products as indicators of social status.

When a society feels under threat, shared knowledge, exalted as "culture" or "tradition", may be valued more, lowering the I/K ratio. Resources previously dedicated to artistic creativity may be diverted into attempts to protect the society or to acquire knowledge about the changes it is experiencing, leading to reduced artistic output. Art in Renaissance Florence provides an example. Between the Milanese siege of 1401-2 and the French invasion in 1494 a period of relative political stability was the context for some of the greatest paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance. In the chaos of the early 16th century, as power fluctuated between Medici and republican governments, comparatively little great art was produced. Political theory, however, blossomed, notably with the publication of Machiavelli's The Prince and Discourses .

That the I/K ratio is culture-dependent is surely unsurprising. Even within a single society, the preferred I/K ratio in any given field of intellectual activity will depend on the field in question and on the person making the assessment.

This brings us to another aspect of the complementarity between knowledge and imagination: its dynamic nature. The I/K ratio changes over time. In some cases, a new branch of the sciences, for example, can begin with a few mavericks (high I/K ratio) whose research is initially dismissed as speculative. As their way of thinking gradually wins acceptance, it attracts recruits at an increasing rate until a paradigm shift occurs and allegiances transfer wholesale from the old establishment to the new. A period of growing stability follows in which knowledge is assembled (decreasing I/K ratio) which supports the new ideas. Creative output falls, stagnation gradually sets in. Problems begin to emerge, which are ignored by all but a few ... and so the cycle begins again.

As for science, so for religion. Cults often start with an act of radical imagining, what Anthony Wallace calls a "mazeway resynthesis": elements of current cultural understanding (the "mazeway") are recombined into a new and dramatic form which seems to promise solutions to previously insoluble problems. Yet cult doctrines, born in the fiery freedom of imagination, tend to solidify into the restriction of dogma, leading to the rejection of any information which does not fit. As social psychologists have noted, however, the pattern of growth, stability and attrition seems to be a fundamental one for human groups across many different fields of endeavour.

So is imagination more important than knowledge? It depends on whom you ask, what you ask about, and when.

Kathleen Taylor is a research scientist in the department of physiology at Oxford University. This essay won the THES /Palgrave Humanities and Social Sciences Writing Prize.

¹ The interview was published in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post , October 26th, 1929.

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To imagine is to represent without aiming at things as they actually, presently, and subjectively are. One can use imagination to represent possibilities other than the actual, to represent times other than the present, and to represent perspectives other than one’s own. Unlike perceiving and believing, imagining something does not require one to consider that something to be the case. Unlike desiring or anticipating, imagining something does not require one to wish or expect that something to be the case.

Imagination is involved in a wide variety of human activities, and has been explored from a wide range of philosophical perspectives. Philosophers of mind have examined imagination’s role in mindreading and in pretense. Philosophical aestheticians have examined imagination’s role in creating and in engaging with different types of artworks. Epistemologists have examined imagination’s role in theoretical thought experiments and in practical decision-making. Philosophers of language have examined imagination’s role in irony and metaphor.

Because of the breadth of the topic, this entry focuses exclusively on contemporary discussions of imagination in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition. For an overview of historical discussions of imagination, see the sections on pre-twentieth century and early twentieth century accounts of entry on mental imagery ; for notable historical accounts of imagination, see corresponding entries on Aristotle , Thomas Hobbes , David Hume , Immanuel Kant , and Gilbert Ryle ; for a more detailed and comprehensive historical survey, see Brann 1991; and for a sophisticated and wide-ranging discussion of imagination in the phenomenological tradition, see Casey 2000.

1.1 Varieties of Imagination

1.2 taxonomies of imagination, 1.3 norms of imagination, 2.1 imagination and belief, 2.2 imagination and desire, 2.3 imagination, imagery, and perception, 2.4 imagination and memory, 2.5 imagination and supposition, 3.1 mindreading, 3.2 pretense, 3.3 psychopathology.

  • Supplement: Puzzles and Paradoxes of Imagination and the Arts

3.5 Creativity

3.6 knowledge, 3.7 figurative language, other internet resources, related entries, 1. the nature of imagination.

A variety of roles have been attributed to imagination across various domains of human understanding and activity ( section 3 ). Not surprisingly, it is doubtful that there is one component of the mind that can satisfy all the various roles attributed to imagination (Kind 2013). Nevertheless, perhaps guided by these roles, philosophers have attempted to clarify the nature of imagination in three ways. First, philosophers have tried to disambiguate different senses of the term “imagination” and, in some cases, point to some core commonalities amongst the different disambiguations ( section 1.1 ). Second, philosophers have given partial taxonomies to distinguish different types of imaginings ( section 1.2 ). Third, philosophers have located norms that govern paradigmatic imaginative episodes ( section 1.3 ).

There is a general consensus among those who work on the topic that the term “ imagination ” is used too broadly to permit simple taxonomy. Indeed, it is common for overviews to begin with an invocation of P.F. Strawson’s remarks in “Imagination and Perception”, where he writes:

The uses, and applications, of the terms “image”, “imagine”, “imagination”, and so forth make up a very diverse and scattered family. Even this image of a family seems too definite. It would be a matter of more than difficulty to identify and list the family’s members, let alone their relations of parenthood and cousinhood. (Strawson 1970: 31)

These taxonomic challenges carry over into attempts at characterization. In the opening chapter of Mimesis as Make-Believe —perhaps the most influential contemporary monograph on imagination—Kendall Walton throws up his hands at the prospect of delineating the notion precisely. After enumerating and distinguishing a number of paradigmatic instances of imagining, he asks:

What is it to imagine? We have examined a number of dimensions along which imaginings can vary; shouldn’t we now spell out what they have in common?—Yes, if we can. But I can’t. (Walton 1990: 19)

Leslie Stevenson (2003: 238) makes arguably the only recent attempt at a somewhat comprehensive inventory of the term’s uses, covering twelve of “the most influential conceptions of imagination” that can be found in recent discussions in “philosophy of mind, aesthetics, ethics, poetry and … religion”.

To describe the varieties of imaginings, philosophers have given partial and overlapping taxonomies.

Some taxonomies are merely descriptive, and they tend to be less controversial. For example, Kendall Walton (1990) distinguishes between spontaneous and deliberate imagining (acts of imagination that occur with or without the one’s conscious direction); between occurrent and nonoccurrent imaginings (acts of imagination that do or do not occupy the one’s explicit attention); and between social and solitary imaginings (episodes of imagining that occur with or without the joint participation of several persons).

One notable descriptive taxonomy concerns imagining from the inside versus from the outside (Williams 1973; Wollheim 1973; see Ninan 2016 for an overview). To imagine from the outside that one is Napoleon involves imagining a scenario in which one is Napoleon. To imagine from the inside that one is Napoleon involves that plus something else: namely, that one is occupying the perspective of Napoleon. Imagining from the inside is essentially first-personal, imagining from the outside is not. This distinction between two modes of imagining is especially notable for its implications for thought experiments about the metaphysics of personal identity (Nichols 2008; Ninan 2009; Williams 1973).

Some taxonomies aim to be more systematic—to carve imaginings at their joints, so to speak—and they, as one might expect, tend to be more controversial.

Gregory Currie and Ian Ravenscroft (2002) distinguishes creative imagination (combining ideas in unexpected and unconventional ways); sensory imagination (perception-like experiences in the absence of appropriate stimuli); and what they call recreative imagination (an ability to experience or think about the world from a perspective different from the one that experience presents). Neil Van Leeuwen (2013, 2014) takes a similar approach to delineate three common uses of “imagination” and cognate terms. First, these terms can be used to refer to constructive imagining , which concerns the process of generating mental representations. Second, these terms can be used to refer to attitude imagining , which concerns the propositional attitude one takes toward mental representations. Third, these terms can be used to refer to imagistic imagining , which concerns the perception-like format of mental representations.

Amy Kind and Peter Kung (2016b) pose the puzzle of imaginative use—on the seeming irreconcilability between the transcendent uses of imagination, which enables one to escape from or look beyond the world as it is, and the instructive uses of imagination, which enables one to learn about the world as it is. Kind and Kung ultimately resolve the puzzle by arguing that the same attitude can be put to these seemingly disparate uses because the two uses differ not in kind, but in degree—specifically, the degree of constraint on imaginings.

Finally, varieties of imagination might be classified in terms of their structure and content. Consider the following three types of imaginings, each illustrated with an example. When one imagines propositionally , one represents to oneself that something is the case. So, for example, Juliet might imagine that Romeo is by her side . To imagine in this sense is to stand in some mental relation to a particular proposition (see the entry on propositional attitude reports ). When one imagines objectually , one represents to oneself a real or make-believe entity or situation (Yablo 1993; see also Martin 2002; Noordhof 2002; O’Shaughnessy 2000). So, for example, Prospero might imagine an acorn or a nymph or the city of Naples or a wedding feast . To imagine in this sense is to stand in some mental relation to a representation of an (imaginary or real) entity or state of affairs. When one imagines X-ing , one simulatively represents to oneself some sort of activity or experience (Walton 1990). So, for example, Ophelia might imagine seeing Hamlet or getting herself to a nunnery . To imagine in this sense is to stand in a first-personal mental relation to some (imaginary or real) behavior or perception.

There are general norms that govern operations of imagination (Gendler 2003).

Mirroring is manifest to the extent that features of the imaginary situation that have not been explicitly stipulated are derivable via features of their real-world analogues, or, more generally, to the extent that imaginative content is taken to be governed by the same sorts of restrictions that govern believed content. For example, in a widely-discussed experiment conducted by Alan Leslie (1994), children are asked to engage in an imaginary tea party. When an experimenter tips and “spills” one of the (empty) teacups, children consider the non-tipped cup to be “full” (in the context of the pretense) and the tipped cup to be “empty” (both within and outside of the context of the pretense). In fact, both make-believe games and more complicated engagements with the arts are governed by principles of generation , according to which prompts or props prescribe particular imaginings (Walton 1990).

Quarantining is manifest to the extent that events within the imagined or pretended episode are taken to have effects only within a relevantly circumscribed domain. So, for example, the child engaging in the make-believe tea party does not expect that “spilling” (imaginary) “tea” will result in the table really being wet, nor does a person who imagines winning the lottery expect that when she visits the ATM, her bank account will contain a million dollars. More generally, quarantining is manifest to the extent that proto-beliefs and proto-attitudes concerning the imagined state of affairs are not treated as beliefs and attitudes relevant to guiding action in the actual world.

Although imaginative episodes are generally governed by mirroring and quarantining, both may be violated in systematic ways.

Mirroring gives way to disparity as a result of the ways in which (the treatment of) imaginary content may differ from (that of) believed content. Imagined content may be incomplete (for example, there may be no fact of the matter (in the pretense) just how much tea has spilled on the table) or incoherent (for example, it might be that the toaster serves (in the pretense) as a logical-truth inverter). And content that is imagined may give rise to discrepant responses , most strikingly in cases of discrepant affect—where, for example, the imminent destruction of all human life is treated as amusing rather than terrifying.

Quarantining gives way to contagion when imagined content ends up playing a direct role in actual attitudes and behavior (see also Gendler 2008a, 2008b). This is common in cases of affective transmission , where an emotional response generated by an imagined situation may constrain subsequent behavior. For example, imagining something fearful (such as a tiger in the kitchen) may give rise to actual hesitation (such as reluctance to enter the room). And it also occurs in cases of cognitive transmission , where imagined content is thereby “primed” and rendered more accessible in ways that go on to shape subsequent perception and experience. For example, imagining some object (such as a sheep) may make one more likely to “perceive” such objects in one’s environment (such as mistaking a rock for a ram).

2. Imagination in Cognitive Architecture

One way to make sense of the nature of imagination is by drawing distinctions, giving taxonomies, and elucidating governing norms ( section 1 ). Another, arguably more prominent, way to make sense of the nature is by figuring out, in a broadly functionalist framework, how it fits in with more well-understood mental entities from folk psychology and scientific psychology (see the entry on functionalism ).

There are two related tasks involved. First, philosophers have used other mental entities to define imagination by contradistinction (but see Wiltsher forthcoming for a critique of this approach). To give an oversimplified example, many philosophers hold that imagining is like believing except that it does not directly motivate actions. Second, philosophers have used other mental entities to understand the inputs and outputs of imagination. To give an oversimplified example, many philosophers hold that imagination does not output to action-generating systems.

Amongst the most widely-discussed mental entities in contemporary discussions of imagination are belief ( section 2.1 ), desire ( section 2.2 ), mental imagery ( section 2.3 ), memory ( section 2.4 ), and supposition ( section 2.5 ). The resolution of these debates ultimately rest on the extent to which the imaginative attitude(s) posited can fulfill the roles ascribed to imagination from various domains of human understanding and activity ( section 3 ).

To believe is to take something to be the case or regard it as true (see the entry on belief ). When one says something like “the liar believes that his pants are on fire”, one attributes to the subject (the liar) an attitude (belief) towards a proposition (his pants are on fire). Likewise, when one says something like “the liar imagines that his pants are on fire”, one attributes to the subject (the liar) an attitude (imagination) towards a proposition (his pants are on fire). The similarities and differences between the belief attribution and the imagination attribution point to similarities and differences between imagining and believing.

Imagining and believing are both cognitive attitudes that are representational. They take on the same kind of content: representations that stand in inferential relationship with one another. On the single code hypothesis , it is the sameness of the representational format that grounds functional similarities between imagining and believing (Nichols & Stich 2000, 2003; Nichols 2004a). As for their differences, there are two main options for distinguishing imagining and believing (Sinhababu 2016).

The first option characterizes their difference in normative terms. While belief aims at truth, imagination does not (Humberstone 1992; Shah & Velleman 2005). If the liar did not regard it as true that his pants are on fire, then it seems that he cannot really believe that his pants are on fire. By contrast, even if the liar did not regard it as true that his pants are on fire, he can still imagine that his pants are on fire. While the norm of truth is constitutive of the attitude of belief, it is not constitutive of the attitude of imagination. In dissent, Neil Sinhababu (2013) argues that the norm of truth is neither sufficient nor necessary for distinguishing imagining and believing.

The second option characterizes their difference in functional terms. One purported functional difference between imagination and belief concerns their characteristic connection to actions. If the liar truly believes that his pants are on fire, he will typically attempt to put out the fire by, say, pouring water on himself. By contrast, if the liar merely imagines that his pants are on fire, he will typically do no such thing. While belief outputs to action-generation system, imagination does not (Nichols & Stich 2000, 2003). David Velleman (2000) and Tyler Doggett and Andy Egan (2007) point to particular pretense behaviors to challenge this way of distinguishing imagining and believing. Velleman argues that a belief-desire explanation of children’s pretense behaviors makes children “depressingly unchildlike”. Doggett and Egan argue that during immersive episodes, pretense behaviors can be directly motivated by imagination. In response to these challenges, philosophers typically accept that imagination can have a guidance or stage-setting role in motivating behaviors, but reject that it directly outputs to action-generation system (Van Leeuwen 2009; O’Brien 2005; Funkhouser & Spaulding 2009; Everson 2007; Kind 2011; Currie & Ravenscroft 2002).

Another purported functional difference between imagination and belief concerns their characteristic connection to emotions. If the liar truly believes that his pants are on fire, then he will be genuinely afraid of the fire; but not if he merely imagines so. While belief evokes genuine emotions toward real entities, imagination does not (Walton 1978, 1990, 1997; see also related discussion of the paradox of fictional emotions in Supplement on Puzzles and Paradoxes of Imagination and the Arts ). This debate is entangled with the controversy concerning the nature of emotions (see the entry on emotion ). In rejecting this purported functional difference, philosophers also typically reject narrow cognitivism about emotions (Nichols 2004a; Meskin & Weinberg 2003; Weinberg & Meskin 2005, 2006; Kind 2011; Spaulding 2015; Carruthers 2003, 2006).

Currently, the consensus is that there exists some important difference between imagining and believing. Yet, there are two distinct departures from this consensus. On the one hand, some philosophers have pointed to novel psychological phenomena in which it is unclear whether imagination or belief is at work—such as delusions (Egan 2008a) and immersed pretense (Schellenberg 2013)—and argued that the best explanation for these phenomena says that imagination and belief exists on a continuum. In responding to the argument from immersed pretense, Shen-yi Liao and Tyler Doggett (2014) argue that a cognitive architecture that collapses distinctive attitudes on the basis of borderline cases is unlikely to be fruitful in explaining psychological phenomena. On the other hand, some philosophers have pointed to familiar psychological phenomena and argued that the best explanation for these phenomena says that imagination is ultimately reducible to belief. Peter Langland-Hassan (2012, 2014) argues that pretense can be explained with only reference to beliefs—specifically, beliefs about counterfactuals. Derek Matravers (2014) argues that engagements with fictions can be explained without references to imaginings.

To desire is to want something to be the case (see the entry on desire ). Standardly, the conative attitude of desire is contrasted with the cognitive attitude of belief in terms of direction of fit: while belief aims to make one’s mental representations match the way the world is, desire aims to make the way the world is match one’s mental representations. Recall that on the single code hypothesis , there exists a cognitive imaginative attitude that is structurally similar to belief. Is there a conative imaginative attitude—call it desire-like imagination (Currie 1997, 2002a, 2002b, 2010; Currie & Ravenscroft 2002), make-desire (Currie 1990; Goldman 2006), or i-desire (Doggett & Egan 2007, 2012)—that is structurally similar to desire?

The debates on the relationship between imagination and desire is, not surprisingly, thoroughly entangled with the debates on the relationship between imagination and belief. One impetus for positing a conative imaginative attitude comes from behavior motivation in imaginative contexts. Tyler Doggett and Andy Egan (2007) argue that cognitive and conative imagination jointly output to action-generation system, in the same way that belief and desire jointly do. Another impetus for positing a conative imaginative attitude comes from emotions in imaginative contexts (see related discussions of the paradox of fictional emotions and the paradoxes of tragedy and horror in Supplement on Puzzles and Paradoxes of Imagination and the Arts ). Gregory Currie and Ian Ravenscroft (2002) and Doggett and Egan (2012) argue the best explanation for people’s emotional responses toward non-existent fictional characters call for positing conative imagination. Currie and Ravenscroft (2002), Currie (2010), and Doggett and Egan (2007) argue that the best explanation for people’s apparently conflicting emotional responses toward tragedy and horror too call for positing conative imagination.

Given the entanglement between the debates, competing explanations of the same phenomena also function as arguments against conative imagination (Nichols 2004a, 2006b; Meskin & Weinberg 2003; Weinberg & Meskin 2005, 2006; Spaulding 2015; Kind 2011; Carruthers 2003, 2006; Funkhouser & Spaulding 2009; Van Leeuwen 2011). In addition, another argument against conative imagination is that its different impetuses call for conflicting functional properties. Amy Kind (2016b) notes a tension between the argument from behavior motivation and the argument from fictional emotions: conative imagination must be connected to action-generation in order for it to explain pretense behaviors, but it must be disconnected from action-generation in order for it to explain fictional emotions. Similarly, Shaun Nichols (2004b) notes a tension between Currie and Ravenscroft’s (2002) argument from paradox of fictional emotions and argument from paradoxes of tragedy and horror.

To have a (merely) mental image is to have a perception-like experience triggered by something other than the appropriate external stimulus; so, for example, one might have “a picture in the mind’s eye or … a tune running through one’s head” (Strawson 1970: 31) in the absence of any corresponding visual or auditory object or event (see the entry on mental imagery ). While it is propositional imagination that gets compared to belief and desire, it is sensory or imagistic imagination that get compared to perception (Currie & Ravenscroft 2002). Although it is possible to form mental images in any of the sensory modalities, the bulk of discussion in both philosophical and psychological contexts has focused on visual imagery.

Broadly, there is agreement on the similarity between mental imagery and perception in phenomenology, which can be explicated as a similarity in content (Nanay 2016b; see, for example, Kind 2001; Nanay 2015; Noordhof 2002). Potential candidates for distinguishing mental imagery and perception include intensity (Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature ; but see Kind 2017), voluntariness (McGinn 2004; Ichikawa 2009), causal relationship with the relevant object (Noordhof 2002); however, no consensus exists on features that clearly distinguish the two, in part because of ongoing debates about perception (see the entries on contents of perception and epistemological problems of perception ).

What is the relationship between imaginings and mental imagery?

Historically, mental imagery is thought to be an essential component of imaginings. Aristotle’s phantasia , which is sometimes translated as imagination, is a faculty that produces images ( De Anima ; see entry on Aristotle’s conception of imagination ; but see Caston 1996). René Descartes ( Meditations on First Philosophy ) and David Hume ( Treatise of Human Nature ) both thought that to imagine just is to hold a mental image, or an impression of perception, in one’s mind. However, George Berkeley’s puzzle of visualizing the unseen ( Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous ) arguably suggests the existence of a non-imagistic hypothetical attitude.

Against the historical orthodoxy, the contemporary tendency is to recognize that there is at least one species of imagination—propositional imagination—that does not require mental imagery. For example, Kendall Walton simply states, “imagining can occur without imagery” (1990: 13). In turn, against this contemporary tendency, Amy Kind (2001) argues that an image-based account can explain three crucial features of imagination—directedness, active nature, and phenomenological character—better than its imageless counterpart. As a partial reconciliation of the two, Peter Langland-Hassan (2015) develops a pluralist position on which there exists a variety of imaginative attitudes, including ones that can take on hybrid contents that are partly propositional and partly sensorily imagistic. (For a nuanced overview of this debate, see Gregory 2016: 103–106.)

Finally, the relationship between mental imagery and perception has potential implications for the connection between imagination and action. The orthodoxy on propositional belief-like imagination holds that imagination does not directly output to action-generation system; rather, the connection between the two is mediated by belief and desire. In contrast, the enactivist program in the philosophy of perception holds that perception can directly output to action-generation system (see, for example, Nanay 2013). Working from the starting point that imagistic imagination is similar to perception in its inclusion of mental imagery, some philosophers have argued for a similar direct connection between imagistic imagination and action-generation system (Langland-Hassan 2015; Nanay 2016a; Van Leeuwen 2011, 2016b). That is, there exist imagery-oriented actions that are analogous to perception-oriented actions. For example, Neil Van Leeuwen (2011) argues that an account of imagination that is imagistically-rich can better explain pretense behaviors than its propositional-imagination-only rivals. Furthermore, Robert Eamon Briscoe (2008, 2018) argues that representations that blend inputs from perception and mental imagery, which he calls “make-perceive”, guide many everyday actions. For example, a sculptor might use a blend of the visual perception of a stone and the mental imagery of different parts of the stone being subtracted to guide their physical manipulation of the stone.

To remember , roughly, is to represent something that is no longer the case. On the standard taxonomy, there are three types of memory. Nondeclarative memory involves mental content that is not consciously accessible, such as one’s memory of how to ride a bike. Semantic declarative memory involves mental content that are propositional and not first-personal, such as one’s memory that Taipei is the capital of Taiwan. Episodic declarative memory involves mental content about one’s own past, such as one’s memory of the birth of one’s child. (See the entry on memory for a detailed discussion of this taxonomy, and especially the criterion of episodicity.) In situating imagination in cognitive architecture, philosophers have typically focused on similarities and differences between imagination and episodic declarative memory.

There are obvious similarities between imagination and memory: both typically involve imagery, both typically concern what is not presently the case, and both frequently involve perspectival representations. Thomas Hobbes ( Leviathan : 2.3) claims that “imagination and memory are but one thing, which for diverse consideration has diverse names”. In making this bold statement, Hobbes represents an extreme version of continuism, a view on which imagination and memory refer to the same psychological mechanisms.

The orthodoxy on imagination and memory in the history of philosophy, however, is discontinuism, a view on which there are significant differences between imagination and memory, even if there are overlaps in their psychological mechanisms. Some philosophers find the distinction in internalist factors, such as the phenomenological difference between imagining and remembering. Most famously, David Hume sought to distinguish the two in terms of vivacity —“the ideas of the memory are much more lively and strong than those of the imagination” ( Treatise of Human Nature : 1.3; but see Kind 2017). Others who have adopted a phenomenological criterion include René Descartes, Bertrand Russell, and William James (De Brigard 2017). Other philosophers find the distinction in externalist factors, such as the causal connection that exists between memories and the past that is absent with imagination. Aristotle uses the causal connection criterion to distinguish between imagination and memory ( De Anima 451a2; 451a8–12; see De Brigard 2017). Indeed, nowadays the idea that a causal connection is essential to remembering is accepted as “philosophical common sense” (see the entry on memory ; but see also De Brigard 2014 on memory traces). As such, it is unsurprising that discontinuism remains the orthodoxy. As J. O. Urmson (1967: 83) boldly claims, “One of these universally admitted distinctions is that between memory and imagination”.

In recent years, two sets of findings from cognitive science has given philosophers reasons to push back against discontinuism.

The first set of findings concern distortions and confabulations. The traditional conception of memory is that it functions as an archive: past experiences are encapsulated and stored in the archive, and remembering is just passively retrieving the encapsulated mental content from the archive (Robins 2016). Behavioral psychology has found numerous effects that challenge the empirical adequacy of the archival conception of memory. Perhaps the most well-known is the misinformation effect, which occurs when a subject incorporates inaccurate information into their memory of an event—even inaccurate information that they received after the event (Loftus 1979 [1996]).

The second set of findings concern the psychological underpinnings of “mental time travel”, or the similarities between remembering the past and imagining the future, which is also known as mental time travel (see Schacter et al. 2012 for a review). Using fMRI, neuroscientists have found a striking overlap in the brain activities for remembering the past and imagining the future, which suggest that the two psychological processes utilize the same neural network (see, for example, Addis et al. 2007; Buckner & Carroll 2007; Gilbert & Wilson 2007; Schacter et al. 2007; Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 2007). The neuroscientific research is preceded by and corroborated by works from developmental psychology (Atance & O’Neill 2011) and on neurodivergent individuals: for example, the severely amnesic patient KC exhibits deficits with remembering the past and imagining the future (Tulving 1985), and also exhibits deficits with the generation of non-personal fictional narratives (Rosenbaum et al. 2009). Note that, despite the evocative contrast between “remembering the past” and “imagining the future”, it is questionable whether temporality is the central contrast. Indeed, some philosophers and psychologists contend that temporality is orthogonal to the comparison between imagination and memory (De Brigard & Gessell 2016; Schacter et al. 2012).

These two set of findings have given rise to an alternative conception that sees memory as essentially constructive, in which remembering is actively generating mental content that more or less represent the past. The constructive conception of memory is in a better position to explain why memories can contain distortions and confabulations (but see Robins 2016 for complications), and why remembering makes use of the same neural networks as imagining.

In turn, this constructive turn in the psychology and philosophy of memory has revived philosophers’ interest in continuism concerning imagination and memory. Kourken Michaelian (2016) explicitly rejects the causal connection criterion and defends a theory on which remembering, like imagining, centrally involves simulation. Karen Shanton and Alvin Goldman (2010) characterizes remembering as mindreading one’s past self. Felipe De Brigard (2014) characterizes remembering as a special instance of hypothetical thinking. Robert Hopkins (2018) characterizes remembering as a kind of imagining that is controlled by the past. However, the philosophical interpretation of empirical research remain contested; in dissent, Dorothea Debus (2014, 2016) considers the same sets of findings but ultimately concludes that remembering and imagining remain distinct mental kinds.

To suppose is to form a hypothetical mental representation. There exists a highly contentious debate on whether supposition is continuous with imagination, which is also a hypothetical attitude, or whether there are enough differences to make them discontinuous. There are two main options for distinguishing imagination and supposition, by phenomenology and by function.

The phenomenological distinction standardly turns on the notion of vivacity: whereas imaginings are vivid, suppositions are not. Indeed, one often finds in this literature the contrast between “merely supposing” and “vividly imagining”. Although vivacity has been frequently invoked in discussions of imagination, Amy Kind (2017) draws on empirical and theoretical considerations to argue that it is ultimately philosophically untenable. If that is correct, then the attempt to demarcate imagination and supposition by their vivacity is untenable too. More rarely, other phenomenological differences are invoked; for example, Brian Weatherson (2004) contends that “supposing can be coarse in a way that imagining cannot”.

Table 1. Architectural similarities and differences between imagination and supposition (Weinberg & Meskin 2006).

There have been diverse functional distinctions attributed to the discontinuity between imagination and supposition, but none has gained universal acceptance. Richard Moran (1994) contends that imagination tends to give rise to a wide range of further mental states, including affective responses, whereas supposition does not (see also Arcangeli 2014, 2017). Tamar Szabó Gendler (2000a) contends that while attempting to imagine something like that female infanticide is morally right seems to generate imaginative resistance, supposing it does not (see the discussion on imaginative resistance in Supplement on Puzzles and Paradoxes of Imagination and the Arts ). Gregory Currie and Ian Ravenscroft (2002) contend that supposition involves only cognitive imagination, but imagination involves both cognitive and conative imagination. Alvin Goldman contends that suppositional imagination involves supposing that particular content obtains (for example, supposing that I am elated) but enactment imagination involves “enacting, or trying to enact, elation itself.” (2006: 47–48, italics omitted). Tyler Doggett and Andy Egan (2007) contend that imagination tends to motivate pretense actions, but supposition tends not to. On Jonathan Weinberg and Aaron Meskin (2006)’s synthesis, while there are a few functional similarities, there are many more functional differences between imagination and supposition (Table 1).

There remain ongoing debates about specific alleged functional distinctions, and about whether the functional distinctions are numerous or fundamental enough to warrant discontinuism or not. Indeed, it remains contentious which philosophers count as continuists and which philosophers count as discontinuists (for a few sample taxonomies, see Arcangeli 2017; Balcerak Jackson 2016; Kind 2013).

3. Roles of Imagination

Much of the contemporary discussion of imagination has centered around particular roles that imagination is purported to play in various domains of human understanding and activity. Amongst the most widely-discussed are the role of imagination in understanding other minds ( section 3.1 ), in performing and recognizing pretense ( section 3.2 ), in characterizing psychopathology ( section 3.3 ), in engaging with the arts ( section 3.4 ), in thinking creatively ( section 3.5 ), in acquiring knowledge about possibilities ( section 3.6 ), and in interpreting figurative language ( section 3.7 ).

The variety of roles ascribed to imagination, in turn, provides a guide for discussions on the nature of imagination ( section 1 ) and its place in cognitive architecture ( section 2 ).

Mindreading is the activity of attributing mental states to oneself and to others, and of predicting and explaining behavior on the basis of those attributions. Discussions of mindreading in the 1990s were often framed as debates between “theory theory”—which holds that the attribution of mental states to others is guided by the application of some (tacit) folk psychological theory—and “simulation theory”—which holds that the attribution of mental states is guided by a process of replicating or emulating the target’s (apparent) mental states, perhaps through mechanisms involving the imagination. (Influential collections of papers on this debate include Carruthers & Smith (eds.) 1996; Davies & Stone (eds.) 1995a, 1995b.) In recent years, proponents of both sides have increasingly converged on common ground, allowing that both theory and simulation play some role in the attribution of mental states to others (see Carruthers 2003; Goldman 2006; Nichols & Stich 2003). Many such hybrid accounts include a role for imagination.

On theory theory views, mindreading involves the application of some (tacit) folk psychological theory that allows the subject to make predictions and offer explanations of the target’s beliefs and behaviors. On pure versions of such accounts, imagination plays no special role in the attribution of mental states to others. (For an overview of theory theory, see entry on folk psychology as a theory ).

On simulation theory views, mindreading involves simulating the target’s mental states so as to exploit similarities between the subject’s and target’s processing capacities. It is this simulation that allows the subject to make predictions and offer explanations of the target’s beliefs and behaviors. (For early papers, see Goldman 1989; Gordon 1986; Heal 1986; for recent dissent, see, for example, Carruthers 2009; Gallagher 2007; Saxe 2005, 2009; for an overview of simulation theory, see entry on folk psychology as mental simulation ).

Traditional versions of simulation theory typically describe simulation using expressions such as “imaginatively putting oneself in the other’s place”. How this metaphor is understood depends on the specific account. (A collection of papers exploring various versions of simulation theory can be found in Dokic & Proust (eds.) 2002.) On many accounts, the projection is assumed to involve the subject’s imaginatively running mental processes “off-line” that are directly analogous to those being run “on-line” by the target (for example Goldman 1989). Whereas the “on-line” mental processes are genuine, the “off-line” mental processes are merely imagined. For example, a target that is deciding whether to eat sushi for lunch is running their decision-making processes “on-line”; and a subject that is simulating the target’s decision-making is running the analogous processes “off-line”—in part, by imagining the relevant mental states of the target. Recent empirical work in psychology has explored the accuracy of such projections (Markman, Klein, & Suhr (eds.) 2009, section V; Saxe 2005, 2006, 2009.)

Though classic simulationist accounts have tended to assume that the simulation process is at least in-principle accessible to consciousness, a number of recent simulation-style accounts appeal to neuroscientific evidence suggesting that at least some simulative processes take place completely unconsciously. On such accounts of mindreading, no special role is played by conscious imagination (see Goldman 2009; Saxe 2009.)

Many contemporary views of mindreading are hybrid theory views according to which both theorizing and simulation play a role in the understanding of others’ mental states. Alvin Goldman (2006), for example, argues that while mindreading is primarily the product of simulation, theorizing plays a role in certain cases as well. Many recent discussions have endorsed hybrid views of this sort, with more or less weight given to each of the components in particular cases (see Carruthers 2003; Nichols & Stich 2003.)

A number of philosophers have suggested that the mechanisms underlying subjects’ capacity to engage in mindreading are those that enable engagement in pretense behavior (Currie & Ravenscroft 2002; Goldman 2006; Nichols & Stich 2003; for an overview of recent discussions, see Carruthers 2009.) According to such accounts, engaging in pretense involves imaginatively taking up perspectives other than one’s own, and the ability to do so skillfully may rely on—and contribute to—one’s ability to understand those alternate perspectives (see the entry on empathy ). Partly in light of these considerations, the relative lack of spontaneous pretense in children with autistic spectrum disorders is taken as evidence for a link between the skills of pretense and empathy.

Pretending is an activity that occurs during diverse circumstances, such as when children make-believe, when criminals deceive, and when thespians act (Langland-Hassan 2014). Although “imagination” and “pretense” have been used interchangeably (Ryle 1949), in this section we will use “imagination” to refer to one’s state of mind, and “pretense” to refer to the one’s actions in the world.

Different theories of pretense disagree fundamentally about what it is to pretend (see Liao & Gendler 2011 for an overview). Consequently, they also disagree about the mental states that enable one to pretend. Metarepresentational theories hold that engaging in pretend play requires the innate mental-state concept pretend (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith 1985; Friedman 2013; Friedman & Leslie 2007; Leslie 1987, 1994). To pretend is to represent one’s own representations under the concept pretend. Behaviorist theories hold that engaging in pretend play requires a process of behaving-as-if (Harris 1994, 2000; Harris & Kavanaugh 1993; Jarrold et al. 1994; Lillard & Flavell 1992; Nichols & Stich 2003; Perner 1991; Rakoczy, Tomasello, & Striano 2004; Stich & Tarzia 2015). Different behaviorist theories explicate behaving-as-if in different ways, but all aim to provide an account of pretense without recourse to the innate mental-state concept pretend.

Philosophical and psychological theories have sought to explain both the performance of pretense and the recognition of pretense, especially concerning evidence from developmental psychology (see Lillard 2001 for an early overview). On the performance side, children on a standard developmental trajectory exhibit early indicators of pretend play around 15 months; engage in explicit prop-oriented play by 24 months; and engage in sophisticated joint pretend play with props by 36 months (Harris 2000; Perner, Baker, & Hutton 1994; Piaget 1945 [1951]). On the recognition side, children on a standard developmental trajectory distinguish pretense and reality via instinctual behavioral cues around 15–18 months; and start to do so via conventional behavioral cues from 36 months on (Friedman et al. 2010; Lillard & Witherington 2004; Onishi & Baillargeon 2005; Onishi, Baillargeon, & Leslie 2007; Richert and Lillard 2004).

Not surprisingly, the debate between theories of pretense often rest on interpretations of such empirical evidence. For example, Ori Friedman and Alan Leslie (2007) argue that behavioral theories cannot account for the fact that children as young as 15 months old can recognize pretend play and its normativity (Baillargeon, Scott, & He 2010). Specifically, they argue that behavioral theories do not offer straightforward explanations of this early development of pretense recognition, and incorrectly predicts that children systematically mistake other acts of behaving-as-if—such as those that stem from false beliefs—for pretense activities. In response, Stephen Stich and Joshua Tarzia (2015) has acknowledged these problems for earlier behaviorist theories, and developed a new behaviorist theory that purportedly explains the totality of empirical evidence better than metarepresentational rivals. Importantly, Stich and Tarzia argue that their account can better explain Angeline Lillard (1993)’s empirical finding that young children need not attribute a mental concept such as pretend to someone else in order to understand them as pretending.

The debate concerning theories of pretense has implications for the role of imagination in pretense. Behaviorist theories tend to take imagination as essential to explaining pretense performance; metarepresentational theories do not. (However, arguably the innate mental-state concept pretend posited by metarepresentational theories serve similar functions. See Nichols and Stich’s (2000) discussion of the decoupler mechanism, which explicitly draws from Leslie 1987. Currie and Ravenscroft (2002) give a broadly behaviorist theory of pretense that does not require imagination.) Specifically, on most behaviorist theories, imagination is essential for guiding elaborations of pretense episodes, especially via behaviors (Picciuto & Carruthers 2016; Stich & Tarzia 2015).

Most recently, Peter Langland-Hassan (2012, 2014) has developed a theory that aims to explain pretense behavior and pretense recognition without appeal to either metarepresentation or imagination. Langland-Hassan argues that pretense behaviors can be adequately explained by beliefs, desires, and intentions—including beliefs in counterfactuals; and that the difference between pretense and sincerity more generally can be adequately characterized in terms of a person’s beliefs, intentions, and desires. While Langland-Hassan does not deny that pretense is in some sense an imaginative activity, he argues that we do not need to posit a sui generis component of the mind to account for it.

Autism and delusions have been—with much controversy—characterized as disorders of imagination. That is, the atypical patterns of cognition and behavior associated with each psychopathology have been argued to result from atypical functions of imagination.

Autism can be characterized in terms of a trio of atypicalities often referred to as “Wing’s triad”: problems in typical social competence, communication, and imagination (Happé 1994; Wing & Gould 1979). The imaginative aspect of autism interacts with other prominent roles of imagination, namely mindreading, pretense, and engagement with the arts (Carruthers 2009). Children with autism do not engage in spontaneous pretend play in the ways that typically-developing children do, engaging instead in repetitive and sometimes obsessional activities; and adults with autism often show little interest in fiction (Carpenter, Tomasello, & Striano 2005; Happé 1994; Rogers, Cook, & Meryl 2005; Wing & Gould 1979). The degree to which an imaginative deficit is implicated in autism remains a matter of considerable debate. Most radically, Gregory Currie and Ian Ravenscroft (2002) have argued that, with respect to Wing’s triad, problems in typical social competence and communication are rooted in an inability to engage in imaginative activities.

Delusions can be characterized as belief-like mental representations that manifest an unusual degree of disconnectedness from reality (Bortolotti & Miyazono 2015). Particularly striking examples would include Capgras and Cotard delusions. In the former, the sufferer takes her friends and family to have been replaced by imposters; in the latter, the sufferer takes himself to be dead. More mundane examples might include ordinary cases of self-deception.

One approach to delusions characterize them as beliefs that are dysfunctional in their content or formation. (For a representative collection of papers that present and criticize this perspective, see Coltheart & Davies (eds.) 2000). However, another approach to delusions characterize them as dysfunctions of imaginings. Currie and Ravenscroft (2002: 170–175) argue that delusions are imaginings that are misidentified by the subject as the result of an inability to keep track of the sources of one’s thoughts. That is, a delusion is an imagined representation that is misidentified by the subject as a belief. Tamar Szabó Gendler (2007) argues that in cases of delusions and self-deceptions, imaginings come to play a role in one’s cognitive architecture similar to that typically played by beliefs. Andy Egan (2008a) likewise argues that the mental states involved in delusions are both belief-like (in their connection to behaviors and inferences) and imagination-like (in their circumscription); however, he argues that these functional similarities suggest the need to posit an in-between attitude called “bimagination”.

3.4 Engagement with the Arts

There is an entrenched historical connection between imagination and the arts. David Hume and Immanuel Kant both invoke imagination centrally in their exploration of aesthetic phenomena (albeit in radically different ways; see entries on Hume’s aesthetics and Kant’s aesthetics ). R.G. Collingwood (1938) defines art as the imaginative expression of feeling (Wiltsher 2018; see entry on Collingwood’s aesthetics ). Roger Scruton (1974) develops a Wittgensteinian account of imagination and accords it a central role in aesthetic experience and aesthetic judgment.

In contemporary philosophy, the most prominent theory of imagination’s role in engagement with the arts is presented in Kendall Walton’s Mimesis as Make-Believe (1990). (Although Walton uses “fictions” as a technical term to refer to artworks, his conception of the arts is broad enough to include both high-brow and low-brow; popular and obscure; a variety of specific arts such as poetry and videogames; and—as Stacie Friend (2008) clarifies—both fictive and non-fictive works.) Walton’s core insight is that engagement with the arts is fundamentally similar to children’s games of make-believe. When one engages with an artwork, one uses it as a prop in a make-believe game. As props, artworks generate prescriptions for imaginings. These prescriptions also determine the representational contents of artworks (that is, “fictionality”, or what is true in a fictional world). When one correctly engages with an artwork, then, one imagines the representational contents as prescribed.

Out of all the arts, it is the engagement with narratives that philosophers have explored most closely in conjunction with imagination (see Stock 2013 for an overview). Gregory Currie (1990) offers an influential account of imagination and fiction, and Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen (1996) discuss literature specifically. Indeed, this research program—despite many criticisms of Walton’s specific theory—remains lively today (see, for example, papers in Nichols (ed.) 2006b). For example, Kathleen Stock (2017) argues that a specific kind of propositional imagination is essential for engagement with fictions. In dissent, Derek Matravers (2014) argues that, contra Walton, imagination is not essential for engagement with fictions.

Philosophers have also done much to articulate the connection between imagination and engagement with music (see the entry on philosophy of music ; see also Trivedi 2011). Some philosophers focus on commonalities between engagement with narratives and engagement with music. For example, even though Walton (1990, 1994a, 1999) acknowledges that fictional worlds of music are much more indeterminate than fictional worlds of narratives, he maintains that the same kind of imagining used in experiencing narratives is also used in experiencing various elements of music, such as imagining continuity between movements and imagining feeling musical tension. Similarly, Andrew Kania (2015) argues that experiencing musical space and movement is imaginative like our experience of fictional narratives. Other philosophers draw parallels between engagement with music and other imaginative activities, namely as understanding other minds ( section 3.1 ) and interpreting metaphor ( section 3.7 ). As an example of the former, Jerrold Levinson (1996) argues that the best explanation of musical expressiveness requires listeners to experience music imaginatively—specifically, imagining a persona expressing emotions through the music. As an example of the latter, Scruton (1997) argues that musical experience is informed by spatial concepts applied metaphorically, and so imaginative perception is necessary for musical understanding (but see Budd 2003 for a criticism; see also De Clercq 2007 and Kania 2015). Stephen Davies (2005, 2011) and Peter Kivy (2002) notably criticize the imaginative accounts of engagement with music on empirical and theoretical grounds.

Other imaginative accounts of engagement with the arts can be found in entries on philosophy of film and philosophy of dance . Indeed, imagination’s aesthetic significance extends beyond the arts; philosophical aestheticians have recognized the role of imagination in appreciating nature (Brady 1998) and in appreciating mundane objects, events, and activities (see the entry on aesthetics of the everyday ).

Philosophers have sought to clarify the role of imagination in engagement with the arts by focusing on a number of puzzles and paradoxes in the vicinity. The puzzle of imaginative resistance explores apparent limitations on what can be imagined during engagements with the arts and, relatedly, what can be made fictional in artworks. The paradox of emotional response to fictions (widely known as “paradox of fiction”) examines psychological and normative similarities between affective responses prompted by imaginings versus affective responses by reality-directed attitudes. The paradox of tragedy and the paradox of horror examine psychological and normative differences between affective responses prompted by imaginings versus affective responses by reality-directed attitudes. Finally, the puzzle of moral persuasion is concerned with real-world outputs of imaginative engagements with artworks; specifically, whether and how artworks can morally educate or corrupt. For more detail on each of these artistic phenomena, see the Supplement on Puzzles and Paradoxes of Imagination and the Arts .

The idea that imagination plays a central role in creative processes can be traced back to Immanuel Kant ( Critique of Pure Reason ), who takes artistic geniuses as paradigmatic examples of creativity. On Kant’s account, when imagination aims at the aesthetic, it is allowed to engage in free play beyond the understanding available to oneself. The unconstrained imagination can thereby take raw materials and produce outputs that transcend concepts that one possesses.

While the precise characterization of creativity remains controversial (see Gaut & Kieran (eds.) 2018; Paul & Kaufman (eds.) 2014), contemporary philosophers typically conceive of it more broadly than Kant did. In addition to creative processes in the aesthetic realm, they also consider creative processes in, for example, “science, craft, business, technology, organizational life and everyday activities” (Gaut 2010: 1034; see also Stokes 2011). As an example, Michael Polanyi (1966) gives imagination a central role in the creative endeavor of scientific discovery, by refining and narrowing the solution space to open-ended scientific problems (see Stokes 2016: 252–256). And, in addition to creative processes of geniuses, contemporary philosophers also consider creative processes of ordinary people.

With this broadened scope, contemporary philosophers have followed Kant’s lead in exploring the role of imagination in creativity (see Stokes 2016 for an overview). Berys Gaut (2003) and Dustin Stokes (2014) argue that two characteristic features of imagination—its lack of aim at truth and its dissociation from action—make it especially suitable for creative processes. Peter Carruthers (2002) argues that the same cognitive resources, including imagination, underlie children’s pretend play and adults’ creative thinking. Specifically, Carruthers hypothesizes that children’s play evolutionarily developed as precursors to and practices for adults’ creative thinking.

There are two points of disagreement regarding the role of imagination in creative processes. First, philosophers disagree about the nature and the strength of the connection between imagination and creativity. Kant takes imagination to be constitutive of creativity: what makes a creative process creative is the involvement of imagination aiming at the aesthetic (see also A. Hills & Bird forthcoming). Gaut and Stokes, by contrast, thinks there is only an imperfect causal connection between imagination and creativity: while imagination is useful for creative processes, there are creative processes that do not involve imagination and there are imaginings that are uncreative (see also Beaney 2005). Second, philosophers disagree about the type of imagination involved in creative processes. By hypothesizing a common evolutionary cause, Carruthers suggests that the same imaginative capacity is involved in pretense and in creativity. By contrast, perhaps echoing Kant’s distinction of productive versus reproductive imagination, Currie and Ravenscroft (2002) sharply distinguish recreative imagination, which is involved in pretense and mindreading, from creative imagination.

Imagination plays a role in the acquisition of knowledge. Many philosophical arguments call on imagination when they appeal to metaphysical modal knowledge (see the entry on epistemology of modality ; the papers collected in Gendler & Hawthorne (eds.) 2002; and Kung 2016 and Strohminger & Yli-Vakkuri 2017 for overviews). The kind of thought experiments that are regularly used in scientific theorizing is also plausibly premised on imaginative capacities (see the entry on thought experiments ). As already discussed, people use imagination to understand the perspectives of others ( section 3.1 ). Moreover, people often make decisions via thinking about counterfactuals, or what would happen if things had been different from how they in fact are (see the entries on causation and counterfactual conditionals ). However, the phenomenon of transformative experience has recently called into question which kind of imaginary scenarios are truly epistemically accessible. (For a representative collection of papers that explore different epistemic roles of imagination, see Kind & Kung (eds.) 2016a.)

Broadly speaking, thought experiments use imaginary scenarios to elicit responses that (ideally) grant people knowledge of possibilities. A special, but prominent, type of thought experiment in philosophy concerns the link between imagination, conceivability, and metaphysical possibility. René Descartes famously offered a modal argument in the Sixth Meditation , reasoning from the fact that he could clearly and distinctly conceive of his mind and body as distinct to the real distinctness between them. The current prevalence of similar modal arguments can be verified by entries on zombies and dualism . These modal arguments all rely, in some way, on the idea that what one can imagine functions as a fallible and defeasible guide to what is really possible in the broadest sense.

Pessimists, notably Peter Van Inwagen (1998: 70), doubt that imagination can give us an accurate understanding of scenarios that are “remote from the practical business of everyday life”, such as those called upon in philosophical modal arguments. Optimists typically take it as a given that there is some connection between imagination and metaphysical modal knowledge, but focus on understanding where the connection is imperfect, such as when one (apparently) imagines the impossible. To just give a few examples, Saul Kripke (1972 [1980]), Stephen Yablo (1993), David Chalmers (2002), Dominic Gregory (2004), Timothy Williamson (2007, 2016), Peter Kung (2010), and Magdalena Balcerak Jackson (2018) have each developed a distinctive approach to this task. For example, Kripke adopts a redescription approach to modeling (some) modal errors: in some cases where one is apparently imagining the impossible, one is in fact imagining a possible scenario but misconstruing it as an impossible one. On this diagnosis, in such cases, the error resides not with imaginative capacities, but with the capacity to describe one’s own imaginings.

Other thought experiments are scoped more narrowly; for example, scientific thought experiments are intended to allow people to explore nomic possibilities. Galileo ( On Motion ) famously offered a thought experiment that disproved Aristotle’s theory of motion, which predicts that heavier objects fall more quickly. In this thought experiment, Galileo asked people to imagine the falling of a composite of a light and heavy object versus the falling of the heavy object alone. When one runs the thought experiment—that is, when one elaborates on the starting point of this imaginary scenario—one notices an incoherence in Aristotle’s theory: on the one hand, it should predict that the composite would fall more slowly because the light object would slow down the heavy object; on the other hand, it should also predict that the composite would fall more quickly because the composite is heavier than the heavy object alone. While it is incontrovertible that imagination is central to thought experiments, debates remain on whether imagination can be invoked in the context of justification (Gendler 2000b; Williamson 2016) or only in the context of discovery (Norton 1991, 1996; Spaulding 2016).

The role of imagination in counterfactual reasoning—and, in particular, the question of what tends to be held constant when one contemplates counterfactual scenarios—has been explored in detail in recent philosophical and psychological works (Byrne 2005; Williamson 2005, 2007, 2016). Williamson suggests that

When we work out what would have happened if such-and-such had been the case, we frequently cannot do it without imagining such-and-such to be the case and letting things run. (2005: 19)

It is imagination that lets one move from counterfactuals’ antecedents to their consequents. Williamson (2016) argues that our imaginings have evolved to be suitably constrained, such that such counterfactual reasoning can confer knowledge. Indeed, he argues that if one were to be skeptical about gaining knowledge from such a hypothetical reasoning process, then one would be forced to be (implausibly) skeptical about much of ordinary reasoning about actuality. Developing an idea anticipated by Williamson (2007), Margot Strohminger and Juhani Yli-Vakkuri (forthcoming) argue that the same imaginative mechanisms that capable of producing metaphysical modal knowledge are also capable of producing knowledge of other restricted modalities, such as nomic and practical modality. In parallel, Amy Kind (2016c, 2018) argues that imaginings can confer knowledge when they are guided by reality-sensitive constraints, in a manner akin to computer simulations.

Thinking about counterfactuals is just one way that imagination can factor into mundane decision-making. Neil Van Leeuwen (2011, 2016a, 2016b) and Bence Nanay (2016a) have recently started to elaborate on the connection between imagination and actions via decision-making. Although neither authors focus on the epistemic status of imagination, their accounts of decision-making seem to suggest that imagination is used to gain practical knowledge about the probability and value of actions’ possible outcomes.

At the same time, the recently prominent discussion of transformative experiences calls into question the extent to which imagination can be epistemically useful for making life-altering decisions. L.A. Paul (2014, 2015, 2018; see also Jackson 1982, 1986; D. Lewis 1988) argues that some types of knowledge—especially de se knowledge concerning one’s values—are inaccessible by imaginings; only actual experiences can confer these types of knowledge. For example, one cannot really know whether one wants to become a parent without experiencing being a parent because parenthood itself can transform one’s values. If one cannot reasonably imagine oneself with radically different values, then plausibly one cannot appropriately imagine the values associated with the outcomes of one’s actions. As such, despite their epistemic worth in ordinary contexts, imaginings might not help in making life-altering decisions.

Finally, imagination might play a role in interpreting figurative language. The exact role ascribed to imagination varies greatly from theory to theory. In part, this variation arose from a longstanding debate in philosophy of language concerning the divide between literal and figurative language: while some imaginative theories of figurative language (such as Walton 1990) accept a strong divide, others (such as Lepore & Stone 2015) reject it. Although this controversy cannot be avoided entirely, it is worth reiterating that the present aim is only to highlight the possible role(s) that imagination might play in the psychology of irony, metaphor, and nearby linguistic phenomena.

Despite immense differences between them, numerous theories of irony have converged on the idea that interpreting irony involves imagination. Kendall Walton (1990) treats ironic and metaphoric speech as props in momentary games of make-believe. On Walton’s theory, imagination is central to understanding and interpreting such figurative speech. Herbert Clark and Richard Gerrig (1984) and Gregory Currie (2006) connect irony to pretense, but without further linking all cases of pretense to imaginative capacities. Elisabeth Camp (2012) similarly endorses a role for pretense in the interpretation of irony and the related case of sarcasm. Finally, this idea that interpreting irony involves imagination is corroborated by psychological research: irony recognition is difficult for neurodivergent individuals who lack imaginative capacities (Happé 1991)—specifically, in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, who have deficits with meta-representation—and in individuals with schizophrenia, who have deficits with theory-of-mind (Langdon et al. 2002).

Again, despite immense differences between them, numerous theories of metaphor have also converged on the idea that interpreting metaphor involves imagination (see the entry on metaphor ). The first family of theories focus on imagination’s role in pretense. As mentioned earlier, Walton (1990) takes metaphors to be props in momentary games of make-believe. Walton (1993, 2000) and David Hills (1997) further develop this idea. (Importantly, Walton (1993) notes that interpretation of a metaphor may not involve actual imaginings, but only the recognition of the type of imaginings prescribed.) Andy Egan (2008b) extends the idea to account for idioms. These theories remain controversial: in particular, Camp (2009) and Catherine Wearing (2011) have offered forceful criticisms. The second family of theories focus on imagination’s role in providing novel perspectives. While Camp (2009) criticizes the first family of theories, she also acknowledges a role for imagination. On her account, pretense and metaphor typically involve distinct types of imaginings: pretense-imaginings allow one to access counterfactual content, but metaphor-imaginings allow one to re-interpret actual content from a novel perspective. Indeed Camp (2007) argues that the kind of imagination involved in interpreting metaphors is also used to interpret similes and juxtapositions. The third family of theories focus on imagination’s role in providing mental images. Paul Ricoeur (1978), Richard Moran (1989), and Robyn Carston (2010) all propose theories on which mental imagery plays an important role in processing metaphors. Outside of philosophy of language, James Grant (2011) argues that metaphors are prevalent in art criticism because they prompt readers’ imaginings.

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  • Wearing, Catherine, 2011, “Metaphor, Idiom, and Pretense”, Noûs , 46(2): 1–26. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0068.2010.00819.x
  • Weatherson, Brian, 2004, “Morality, Fiction, and Possibility”, Philosophers’ Imprint , 4(3): 1–27. [ Weatherson 2004 available online ]
  • Weinberg, Jonathan M. and Aaron Meskin, 2005, “Imagine That!”, in Kieran 2005: 222–235.
  • –––, 2006, “Puzzling Over the Imagination: Philosophical Problems, Architectural Solutions”, in Nichols (ed.) 2006b: 175–202. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199275731.003.0010
  • Williams, Bernard, 1973, “Imagination and the Self”, in his Problems of the Self: Philosophical Papers 1956–1972 , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 26–45. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511621253.005
  • Williamson, Timothy, 2005, “Armchair Philosophy, Metaphysical Modality, and Counterfactual Thinking”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society , 105(1): 1–23. doi:10.1111/j.0066-7373.2004.00100.x
  • –––, 2007, The Philosophy of Philosophy , Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • –––, 2016, “Knowing by Imagining”, in Kind and Kung (eds.) 2016a: 113–123. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198716808.003.0005
  • Wiltsher, Nick, 2018, “Feeling, Emotion, and Imagination: In Defence of Collingwood’s Expression Theory of Art”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy , 26(4): 759–781. doi:10.1080/09608788.2017.1379001
  • –––, forthcoming, “Imagination: A Lens, Not a Mirror”, Philosophers’ Imprint .
  • Wing, Lorna and Judith Gould, 1979, “Severe Impairments of Social Interaction and Associated Abnormalities in Children: Epidemeology and Classification”, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders , 9(1): 11–29. doi:10.1007/BF01531288
  • Wollheim, Richard, 1973, “Imagination and Identification”, in On Art and the Mind , London: Allen Land, pp. 54–83.
  • Yablo, Stephen, 1993, “Is Conceivability a Guide to Possibility?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 53(1): 1–42. doi:10.2307/2108052
  • Yablo, Stephen, 2002, “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”, in Gendler and Hawthorne (eds.) 2002: 441–492.
How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • The Junkyard , a scholarly blog on imagination
  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Imagery and Imagination
  • Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Imagination
  • PhilPapers collection of papers on Imagination

Aristotle, General Topics: psychology | belief | causation: counterfactual theories of | Collingwood, Robin George: aesthetics | conditionals | dance, philosophy of | desire | dualism | emotion | empathy | film, philosophy of | folk psychology: as a theory | folk psychology: as mental simulation | functionalism | Hobbes, Thomas | Hume, David | Hume, David: aesthetics | Kant, Immanuel | Kant, Immanuel: aesthetics and teleology | memory | mental imagery | metaphor | modality: epistemology of | music, philosophy of | perception: epistemological problems of | perception: the contents of | propositional attitude reports | Ryle, Gilbert | thought experiments | zombies


No one can have an encyclopedic knowledge on a topic as vast as imagination. The previous iteration of the entry could not have existed without the help of Paul Bloom, David Chalmers, Gregory Currie, Tyler Doggett, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, Shaun Nichols, Zoltán Gendler Szabó, Jonathan Weinberg, Ed Zalta, an anonymous referee, and—most of all—Aaron Norby. This iteration of the entry could not exist without the help of Tyler Doggett, Elisabeth Camp, Felipe De Brigard, Anna Ichino, Andrew Kania, Amy Kind, Peter Langland-Hassan, Aaron Meskin, Kengo Miyazono, Eric Peterson, Mark Phelan, Dustin Stokes, Margot Strohminger, Mike Stuart, Neil Van Leeuwen, Jonathan Weinberg, Nick Wiltsher, and two anonymous referees.

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Albert Einstein famously 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.” Through imagination, people can explore ideas of things that are not physically present, ranging from the familiar (e.g., a thick slice of chocolate cake) to the never-before-experienced (e.g., an alien spacecraft appearing in the sky).

  • What Is the Purpose of Imagination?
  • Imagination and Psychology
  • A Child’s Imagination


Unlike perception, imagination is not dependent on external sensory information taken from what a person can see, hear, feel, taste, or touch in the moment. Rather, it’s generated from within and often unconsciously influenced by memories and feelings. Humans use imagination for a variety of reasons: to acquire experience and knowledge about the world, to better understand another person’s perspective, to solve problems, to create and interact with artistic works, and more. Imagination tends to go hand-in-hand with creativity and plays a pivotal role in the different stages of development.

Daydreaming (or mind-wandering ) is an information-processing state that combines knowledge and imagination, the dynamic duo . Being more imaginative allows a person to make creative connections and inferences using their past experience and knowledge base. As a result, research indicates that more robust daydreaming is associated with superior intelligence.

For the most part, having an imagination is hugely beneficial to your life, lending you greater perspective and helping you achieve lofty goals . However, imagination can be harmful in those rare instances where imagination is mistaken for perception . This can occur whenever someone struggles with mentalization or the ability to differentiate between what’s real and what’s made up in their mind. A lack of mentalization can lead a person to react to an imagined fear (e.g., that the plane they’re in is going to crash) as if it’s real, frequently leading to great stress , anxiety , fear, and trauma.

Your imagination is full of potential just waiting to be tapped. There are many ways to jumpstart your imagination . Deliberately change your self-perception through tools like positive affirmations . Put on your observation hat and use all your senses to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Try closing your eyes for a few minutes and reliving a pleasant memory . Open yourself up to possibility by asking what would happen if you said “yes” to opportunity instead of “no.” Be curious and playful. Spend some more time in nature.

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Imagination can be a powerful tool in psychology. Many people deliberately use mental imagery to visualize desired outcomes (e.g., like winning a competition ), process past experiences, manage difficult emotions, or relax the mind and body (as in meditation ). There is a strong if not entirely understood connection between the mind and the body. Trained mental health professionals may employ imagination in the form of guided therapeutic imagery to help patients address a number of concerns, including grief , depression , stress and anxiety, substance use issues, relationship problems, family and parenting concerns, and PTSD .

Daydreaming is often dismissed as a useless waste of time, but dreams of glory can actually boost creativity and self-control . It occurs when the executive attention network and the default mode network collaborate together. Daydreaming allows people to shut out their external environment and clarify positive, long-term goals towards which they can then work. Visualizing their future self can motivate them to take the necessary steps to hone their skills and achieve success.

Many people suffer from crippling fear that negatively impacts their day-to-day functioning. Since the 1950s, exposure therapy has been prescribed to expose these individuals to their fears in manageable doses until they gain control over their body’s fear response. In some cases, exposure therapy is not possible (e.g., it costs too much or other practical limitations) or not desirable, and imagining exposure can actually bring about many of the same benefits as actual exposure to the threatening stimulus. In essence, a vivid imagination can help people unlearn fear .

After a traumatic experience, it’s easy to get stuck in negativity, ruminating again and again over the painful memory of what happened. Imagination can provide an escape —a way of looking beyond what is to what could be. Imagining new narratives, particularly with the help of a mental health professional, can help a person move away from distress and towards healing. Through imagination, they can recover a sense of personal agency and feel more empowered after a life crisis.  

Evidence shows that our memories are not static recordings of actual events; in fact, they’re proven to change with each retelling. This can either be adaptive, as in the case of personal trauma, or dangerous, as when dealing with law and crime . For example, eyewitness imagination can change memories —most often unconsciously—in the direction of personal beliefs, a fact that should be given more consideration in legal proceedings.

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Children can benefit greatly from a vivid imagination, especially with the support of key adult figures in their lives, such as parents and teachers. Imagination plays a critical role in early development, increasing children’s cognitive, creative, and social skills. Imaginative children can explore their thoughts and feelings more deeply and learn how to solve problems creatively. They can put these lessons to good use as they build friendships and pursue personal goals.

Pretend play or make-believe consists of a few key components. One is object substitution, which can involve either pretending an object is something else (e.g., a banana becomes a telephone) or using an imaginary object. A child may also attribute pretend properties to an object (e.g., making a stuffed animal “talk”). Imaginative play can include social interactions, either with peers or adults. A child may also role-play or act as if they are someone else (like a celebrity), either with or without props. Imaginative play often involves metacommunication, such as discussing who will be playing what role and how the story will go.

There is a great need for pretend play in child development . Fantasy and make-believe can teach children crucial social skills, such as communication, empathy, perspective-taking , and problem-solving. Imaginative playing can encourage curiosity and creativity, often leading to more success in school. Parents can help encourage their child’s imagination by reading to them at bedtime and having regular discussions about topics like nature and social issues.

Many healthy children create imaginary friends that they eventually outgrow. Children that are more fantasy-prone tend to be outgoing , creative, and adept at seeing things from other people’s perspectives. Children may also express their own thoughts and feelings through an imaginary friend, giving their parents greater insight into their inner world. Imaginary friends can teach kids a great deal about the possibilities of fiction that may benefit them as adults.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Not making it in this world? Make up a world where you can do anything and whatever you do is heroic and perfect.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

New documentary chronicles singer-songwriter Dory Previn's experience with hearing voices The voices, Previn contends, evolved from tormentors to collaborators.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

A mental game-changer creates the world's best athletes. This applied method uses cues and imagery to motivation and consistency to reshape peak performance.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Our mother tongues can have a powerful impact on the way we see the world.

Auschwitz-Birkenau by Dieglop, Nov. 24, 2018.

Like no other sense, hearing insistently reminds us of things we would rather not know.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

The UFO phenomenon reveals more about humans than about ETs.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Our minds wander for almost half of our waking hours every day. But mind wandering can be a productive, creative "waste of time."

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Get curious about your own sense of curiosity through questioning, lifelong learning, and eclectic reading.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Have you ever felt you could use more support as a parent, but the people around you are unavailable? We can access imaginary supporters who can give real support.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Fiction can tell us something about the human condition.

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imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

5 Reasons Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of our time, once 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.”

Einstein thought highly of imagination—a quick search online will turn up some quotes by him, praising humankind’s creative ability.

Some people might think that imagination is for naive idealists and lazy daydreamers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Imagination is crucial to success in life —just ask any successful person.

Here are five reasons why imagination is more important than knowledge

1. imagination creates knowledge.

Books about the Law of Attraction teach us that what we focus on expands. The experiences that you have today are the results of the thoughts you had yesterday.

Imagination is more important than knowledge - Einstein lettering quote

Without imagination, there is no knowledge. Did you know that Olympic athletes  imagine their desired outcome when preparing for an event? Aside from physical training, many visualize their performance to help them bring home the gold.

You can also use this technique even if you’re not a professional athlete. You can visualize getting in shape, acing a test, closing a sale, et cetera.

Learn How To Turn Extraordinary Performance Into An Effortless Habit in This FREE Masterclass>>

2. Imagination Makes Life Interesting

What would life be without music, movies, books, and the arts? Imagine a world without fairytales .  Or the Sistine Chapel without Michelangelo’s paintings. Life would be so dull.

Thanks to artists who share their imagination with us, our creativity is sparked. Imagination, whether gleaned from the works of others or our own mind, definitely makes life more interesting.

3. Imagination Births Innovation

Without imagination, would we have cars, airplanes, computers, smartphones, or buildings today?

Business women hand holding light bulb, concept of new ideas with innovation and creativity.

All of the innovative technologies that we enjoy now are products of imagination. Like the desktop computer or mobile device that you’re reading this article on now, everything first existed in someone’s mind before it became an actual, tangible thing.

Imagination is what enables us to come up with beautiful and useful ideas.

4. Imagination Takes Us Places

Imagination allows us to travel without actually leaving. Of course, nothing beats the real thing, but if you can’t hop on a plane and make your way to say, Paris, right now, you can still “visit” the city by reading a book, listening to French music, watching a French film, or having French cuisine.

Really, you’re only limited by your imagination.

5. Imagination Gives Hope

Open blue door and sunshine

While their case is extreme, the Angulo brothers are a good example. The subject of the documentary The Wolfpack , the six brothers (and their sister) spent years locked away from society in their Manhattan apartment. To keep themselves entertained, they watched numerous films and reenacted the scenes they saw.

Fourteen years of being cooped up in a tiny space would be enough to drive most of us crazy, but the Angulo brothers used their imagination to stay sane, and eventually escape.

Imagination is a powerful tool that is inherent in each of us. Use it to shape your reality and boost your knowledge.

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Bowen is a fitness and health blogger at Running Addicted . His obsessions are food and running, and he strives for a balance between the two. He blogs to share his stories, his training, what he has learned to help his readers be a better runner.

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Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge Essay Essay

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

Why Is Imagination More Important Than Knowledge?

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. This is true because Imagination has done so many things in this world. Like coming up with a priceless work of art. Knowledge did not come up with it. Imagination did. Knowledge is limited too the physical world and it can’t go beyond it. Knowledge can’t make up what you wish for the most or what you dream of at night. Imagination came up with what happens when you suddenly start daydreaming or

Could Imagination Be More Important than Thought?

have the same knowledge but can never have the same imagination. Imagination is not only seeing pictures in the mind, it also includes smelling, feeling and tasting. According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, imagination is, “the act of forming mental images of what is not actually present or never been actually experienced” (Agnes). Knowledge is, “the act, fact or state of knowing” (Agnes). Imagination and knowledge work hand in hand. Imagination is more important than knowledge because it

The Most Important Characteristics Of A Leader Essay

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Knowledge Vs. Imagination

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David Brooks

The Awesome Importance of Imagination

imagination is more important than knowledge essay outline

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the imagination. As the philosopher Stephen Asma and the actor Paul Giamatti pointed out in an essay in March, Plato gave the impression that imagination is a somewhat airy-fairy luxury good. It deals with illusions and make-believe and distracts us from reality and our capacity to coolly reason about it. Aristotle countered that imagination is one of the foundations of all knowledge .

One tragedy of our day is that our culture hasn’t fully realized how much Aristotle was correct. Our society isn’t good at cultivating the faculty that we may need the most.

What is imagination? Well, one way of looking at it is that every waking second your brain is bombarded with a buzzing, blooming confusion of colors, shapes and movements. Imagination is the capacity to make associations among all these bits of information and to synthesize them into patterns and concepts. When you walk, say, into a coffee shop you don’t see an array of surfaces, lights and angles. Your imagination instantly coalesces all that into an image: “coffee shop.”

Neuroscientists have come to appreciate how fantastically complicated and subjective this process of creating mental images really is. You may think perception is a simple “objective” process of taking in the world and cognition is a complicated process of thinking about it. But that’s wrong .

Perception — the fast process of selecting, putting together, interpreting and experiencing facts, thoughts and emotions — is the essential poetic act that makes you you.

For example, you don’t see the naked concept “coffee shop.” The image you create is coated with personal feelings, memories and evaluations. You see: “slightly upscale suburban coffee shop trying and failing to send off a hipster vibe.” The imagination, Charles Darwin wrote, “unites former images and ideas, independently of the will, and thus creates brilliant and novel results.”

Furthermore, imagination can get richer over time. When you go to Thanksgiving dinner, your image of Uncle Frank contains the memories of past Thanksgivings, the arguments and the jokes, and the whole sum of your common experiences. The guy you once saw as an insufferable blowhard you now see — as your range of associations has widened and deepened — as a decent soul struggling with his wounds. “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees,” William Blake observed.

Can you improve your imagination? Yes. By creating complex and varied lenses through which to see the world. The novelist Zadie Smith once wrote that when she was a girl she was constantly imagining what it would be like to grow up in the homes of her friends.

“I rarely entered a friend’s home without wondering what it might be like to never leave,” she wrote in The New York Review of Books. “That is, what it would be like to be Polish or Ghanaian or Irish or Bengali, to be richer or poorer, to say these prayers or hold those politics. I was an equal-opportunity voyeur. I wanted to know what it was like to be everybody. Above all, I wondered what it would be like to believe the sorts of things I didn’t believe.”

What an awesome way to prepare the imagination for the kind of society we all now live in.

Zora Neale Hurston grew up by a main road in Eatonville, Fla. As a young girl she’d walk up to carriages passing by and call out, “Don’t you want me to go a piece of the way with you?” She’d get invited into the carriage, have a conversation with strangers for a while and then walk back home.

These kinds of daring social adventures were balanced, in Hurston’s case, and in the case of many people with cultivated imaginations, with long periods of reading and solitude and inner adventures in storytelling. “I lived an exciting life unseen,” Hurston later recalled.

A person who feeds his or her imagination with a fuller repertoire of thoughts and experiences has the ability not only to see reality more richly but also — even more rare — to imagine the world through the imaginations of others. This is the skill we see in Shakespeare to such a miraculous degree — his ability to disappear into his characters and inhabit their points of view without ever pretending to explain them.

Different people have different kinds of imagination. Some people mainly focus on the parts of the world that can be quantified. This prosaic form of pattern recognition can be very practical. But it often doesn’t see the subjective way people coat the world with values and emotions and aspirations, which is exactly what we want to see if we want to glimpse how they experience their experience.

Blake and others aspired to the most enchanted form of imagination, which as Mark Vernon writes in Aeon, “bridges the subjective and objective, and perceives the interior vitality of the world as well as its interconnecting exteriors.” This is van Gogh painting starry nights and Einstein imagining himself riding alongside a light beam.

Imagination helps you perceive reality, try on other realities, predict possible futures, experience other viewpoints. And yet how much do schools prioritize the cultivation of this essential ability?

What happens to a society that lets so much of its imaginative capacity lie fallow? Perhaps you wind up in a society in which people are strangers to one another and themselves.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .

David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author of “The Road to Character” and, most recently, “The Second Mountain.” @ nytdavidbrooks


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    Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge: Essay Introduction. "Imagination is more important than knowledge," is a famous quote of Albert Einstein. There are only a couple of words in this line, but if we think logically, it encloses the whole world. Imagination is a bequest of life and is indeed far more significant than knowledge.

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    The statement "Imagination is more important than knowledge" is attributed to Albert Einstein. This reflects the role of creativity and imaginative thinking in the pursuit of understanding and innovation. It is the human imagination that derives innovation, instills creativity, generates hypotheses and theories, and evolves understanding skills. It is not knowledge but imagination that ...

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    In fact, I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research. The New York Times reviewed "Cosmic Religion ...

  12. Albert Einstein's View of the Significance of a Creative Mind in

    According to Albert Einstein, "Imagination is more important than knowledge". To me this quote shows the need to keep a creative mind, especially in the field of science. Just because someone can memorize a plethora of facts does not mean that the facts will be of any use; without any creativity or imagination that person cannot apply what ...

  13. Albert Einstein on the power of ideas and imagination in science

    The text below is based on excerpts from the book composed by me into a short article. Actually, this article elaborates Einstein's famous quote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.

  14. Is imagination more important than knowledge? Einstein

    Imagination is something more than memory, something novel: adding a movie star or picturing the guests without their clothes. Knowledge concerns itself with what is present to the senses, but is also a stored and shared repository of publicly acceptable thoughts, many frozen into physical symbols (written or spoken), transmitted through time ...

  15. Imagination

    Imagination. First published Mon Mar 14, 2011; substantive revision Tue Jan 22, 2019. To imagine is to represent without aiming at things as they actually, presently, and subjectively are. One can use imagination to represent possibilities other than the actual, to represent times other than the present, and to represent perspectives other than ...

  16. Why imagination is more important than knowledge

    emotional strength; and, routinely, imagination. Knowledge and technical skill are the tools that turn an idea into reality, and emotional strength earns mention because many great achievers endure discouragement and disparagement on the route to creative success. Though Hoffert's comments dovetailed easily with this view, they also seemed a ...

  17. Imagination

    Albert Einstein famously 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 ...

  18. 5 Reasons Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

    Here are five reasons why imagination is more important than knowledge. 1. Imagination Creates Knowledge. Books about the Law of Attraction teach us that what we focus on expands. The experiences that you have today are the results of the thoughts you had yesterday. So if you don't like your current reality and you're always complaining ...

  19. PDF Imagination is more important than knowledge

    Midterm essay exam (100 pts): There will be a midterm essay exam due, for which you will write an in-depth analysis of what you have learned from the Dunham book. This midterm paper will be a synthesis of your learning from the Dunham book. This analysis should include the main ideas from the reading, but should also describe

  20. Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge Essay Essay

    Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important that knowledge". While the quote seems simple enough, there are more forces at play than one may realize at first. For example, the power of rhetoric may be overlooked in such a short sentence. While Einstein's words may seem innocent enough, one cannot be ignorant of the influence ...

  21. Imagination Is More Important Than You Think

    522. By David Brooks. Opinion Columnist. Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the imagination. As the philosopher Stephen Asma and the actor Paul Giamatti pointed out in an essay in March, Plato ...

  22. Imagination is more important than knowledge

    Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant minds in human history, once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." This quote has resonated with many people throughout the years ...

  23. Imagination Is Crucial Than Knowledge

    In this video, I have explained essay on the topic that imagination is more important than knowledge.This essay was tricky one but one can easily crack this ...