Imagination and Intellectual Honesty

human green eye reflecting building and blue sky

An old meditation about he relationship between Imagination and Intellectual Honesty, and how Einstein’s popular allegories blur the line between the two.


February 27 2012

The trend amongst proponents of new-age thinking and believers of everything illogical is to hold imagination as “better” or more important than knowledge. This seems to result from the human ability to consciously and subconsciously misinterpret facts and knowledge. 

It appears that some humans will engage in fallacious logic to rationalise their emotional tendencies and, in the worst of cases, to justify their agendas. 

This new “philosophy” centres on the ill-inferred meaning of some of Albert Einstein’s utterances. And I use the term Philosophy tentatively and intentionally to refer to a style of doctrine rather than a rational investigation of truth and its principles. 

The great scientist publicly said many things that made little sense even to those who knew him well. 

Imagination and Intellectual Honesty
Albert Einstein

It is essential to know that his sense of irony and humour were notoriously difficult to follow. He was a master of poetic ambiguity. This is evidently clear in his repeated use of the word “God” as an allusion to the laws of nature. 

He did say at times that “imagination is better than knowledge,” giving the impression to those who have never read his philosophical writings in their entirety that he tried to diminish the value of education. Nevertheless, here I challenge all who consider this to read his actual works and better appreciate his intentions.

The PRoblem

As harmless as this misunderstanding may seem to some, it presents an extraordinary threat to logic and reason. 

Many take his genius to support the submission that facts are inessential in the pursuit of truth and that all that is required to understand or even explain our universe is imagination. 

It also proposes the insensible celebration of educational mediocrity and uncritical thought. Furthermore, it imbues the undeserving ranks of human stupidity with an almost infallible authority, which annoyingly terrifies the critical person.

In his address to the Physical Society of Berlin, Principles of Research, 1918 – Albert Einstein eloquently expresses the creative intuition required by theoretical physicists to be successful in their field. He also illustrates the imperative need to reconcile this “imagination” with actual objective facts and a substantial body of knowledge. 

Our ability to imagine or be inventive is essential to discovery and progress. 

However, it is ridiculously irresponsible to consider that “it” alone can manifest into existence without, at least, a pragmatic understanding of the physical world and natural laws. 

From a scientist’s perspective, imagination is the launchpad for the fantastic vehicle of thought, which they ride into the beautiful realm of mystery and discovery. 

You should never let go of your appreciation for all mysteries, the deepest of all being your own ability to think and contemplate existence – consciousness. 

Imagination is critical here, yet, it can only take you as far as “seeing” the mystery without solving it. It is ever so important to be passionate about the work you do and the tools employed to arrive at the realisation of truth. That is the message Einstein attempted to convey when he spoke about the heart, not some metaphysical representation of the emotional brain.

On a personal aside, I admit that the temptation to present you with evidence of Albert’s religious affiliations and beliefs is impressively challenging to resist. 

This is yet another part of his presentation used to peddle religious nonsense, similar to corruptions of the complex disciplines of quantum physics and mechanics. 

Now, this digression warrants a recommendation of his book Ideas and opinions. A book gathered under his supervision containing essays from his early career until his last writing of 1954, the year before his death. 

“The book is the most definitive collection of Albert Einstein’s popular writings, gathered under the supervision of Einstein himself. The selections range from his earliest days as a theoretical physicist to his death in 1955; from such subjects as relativity, nuclear war or peace, and religion and science, to human rights, economics, and government.”

Ideas and Opinions

Another problem

While contemplating human predisposition to self deceive and misinterpret the most concrete of understandings, I find a more important principle influencing this behaviour. 

Due to your advanced cerebra and its necessity to establish order in its environment, subjectivity is a prevalent standard of attitudes in the world of experience. Many accept that all is subjective or up to interpretation, making the individual’s point of view the only reality worth considering. Moreover, any objective observation of the world is often labelled hateful and negative. 

Trust me, I run into those objections often.

The new-age community capitalises on these pretences to convince its members that their consciousness creates reality by leaning on scientific principles like The Observer Effect, and pseudo-psychological, self-help garbage like The Law of Attraction.

The extent of these notions is beyond the scope of this article. However, I recommend that all interested in social psychology look deeper into them.

Subjectivity as a governing law of the human sphere enables humans to cope with many of life’s great stressors. It allows you to balance some of the most complex social equations, like belief systems and spiritual predispositions. 

It also, and most importantly, shelters you from the independent indifference of objective reality, which, in turn, threatens to challenge your egotistical human-centric models.

It is a good “thing” then that you have subjectivity for all its harmonising effects. Still, it’s a much better thing that people are objectively ignorant of the true extent of subjectivity.

Warning: Long sentences coming up

Indulge for a second, or apprehend for longer if you will, the idea that your thoughts create reality or as delusional (most likely dishonest) muppets like Deepak Chopra claim, that consciousness manifests into the physical world as a direct effect of your observation of it. 

With all the different conceptions, feelings, expectations and emotional states possible in your mind alone, and which cannot possibly be synchronised with all the other 7 billion (plus or minus 1) residents of earth, can you (and I use the word in a much healthier context here) imagine the tangled, chaotic mess this universe would be? 

And then, if you dare, include the mentally unstable part of the population in this tale of imagination.

I firmly believe that finding the truth is about intellectual honesty. It is not only about asking the right questions but also, primarily, about accepting the correct answers despite our feelings about them. 

Fear of being wrong will lead you to accept potentially false concepts, and in essence, it will lessen our capacity for reality testing and negatively affect your interpretation and or reinterpretation of incoming empirical data.

There are many more factors to consider when attempting to understand your self-deceptive propensity – almost an obscene predilection. However, I present you with a précis of the negative consequences of the intellectual dishonesty these new-age tenets glorify as virtuous. 

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The Devil’s Hope

It is my hope that humans can overcome these perverse systems and allow logic and reason to thrive. 

And then, I am reminded by my own discourse that wishful thinking is itself a display of weak-mindedness and one that likens me to those I so vehemently oppose. 

Albert Einstein’s allegorical pictures of imagination and intuition are elegant reminders of the importance of an open mind, which, when coupled with knowledge and understanding of natural law, confer the honours of truth and bring us closer to our elusive reality. 

Notice I have not provided any quotes attributed to Einstein. Respectful of your intelligence, I pointed to the sources behind my reasoning. I am confident that you can respect your own acumen and verify the information I offered you here. This I do because I am morally inclined to expect your distrust of any idea without possible verification. 

I am further persuaded by my redundant declaration of intellectual honesty to demand your scepticism and doubt.

Consent to nothing I can say to you on inadequate evidence. And if you accept anything I proclaim to be true, let it be to fear and to loathe the individual influencing you to stop thinking and in so doing, repudiate your ability to know the truth.

Peyton Dracco

— The Devil Unbound

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