Let your child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

by Matthew Worwood

Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

My co-conspirator to DadsforCreativity.com, shared an absolutely awesome New York Times article last week. This October marked 100 years since Einstein came up with the General Theory of Relativity, which is something I barely understand and will not try and explain during this post. What I found most fascinating about the story is how Einstein utilized his imagination to generate his world changing theory about our universe (for those of you not familiar with the story, Einstein imagined he was riding a beam of light through space and this experience is what led him down the path to the General Theory of Relativity).

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As pointed out in the NY Times article titled The Light-Beam Rider, Einstein ‘relished what he called the Gedankenexperimente’, this was his word for experiments and thoughts that he played out in his head. While none of us will likely claim to have the mind of arguably the greatest scientist of the Twentieth Century, we might still have some type of ‘crazy’ question or theory that we Gedankenexperimente with.

At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.

At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.

One of mine first began to manifest during my car journeys to Darbyshire to see my Mom’s family. As we sped up or down the M1 at around 70MPH, I would look out the window at all the objects that zoomed past our window. I used to try and make them go slower by fixing my gaze on an object in front, such as a road sign, and then following it as we passed by. I noticed that if I concentrated hard enough I could make the object almost stop in front of my window for a brief moment, before it disappeared behind me. As I played this game a question began to emerge – what would happen if a wasp entered the car and hovered in a stationary position just above my head? Would it zoom back at the same speed as the outside objects such as the road sign, and thus smash and splatter against our back window? Or would it occupy the same space as our car? While I suspected it was the latter, this only generated more questions – what exactly takes place between the wasp hovering 1mm outside my window and zooming by at 70mph, verses being 1mm inside my window and not?

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I reckon this question might easily be answered by a 12th grade physics teacher, and embarrassingly for me, perhaps it’s common knowledge to everyone, but this is the first time I’ve ever shared this question publicly and I still do not have a solution or more importantly WHY! (Hint Hint – comment below if you know the answer!).

As we think about cultivating creative thinking skills in our children there’s two things to make note of from my question about a wasp. For some reason I’ve kept this question locked up in my head for approximately 25 years. What’s stopped me asking this question? Why didn’t I bring it up during my hundreds of science lessons at school? Why didn’t I ever ask my parents or friends?

In fact, Einstein did more than just notice what the blind beetle couldn’t see. He was able to imagine it by conjuring up thought experiments. That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Walter Issacson (NY Times)

I wonder if this is a question that I must answer on my own? Am I forever destined to wrestle with this question until I begin to formulate a theory? Do we all have these types of experiences as a child – and if so perhaps there really is a scientist within everyone of us?

As these thought experiments remind us, creativity is based on imagination. If we hope to inspire kids to love science, we need to do more than drill them in math and memorized formulas. We should stimulate their minds’ eyes as well. Even let them daydream.- Walter Issacson (NY Times)

Read The Light-Beam Rider here.

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Matthew Worwood
Matthew Worwood is an educator, Creative Studies scholar-practitioner, and co-host of the Fueling Creativity in Education podcast. He is a professor of Digital Media Design at the University of Connecticut and a husband and proud father to three young boys.

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jennifer Kelley November 12, 2015 - 1:10 pm

I can not begin to tell you how refreshing it is to read this! Let their imagination have time to flourish and let their mind wonder. It will help your child way more than any tutoring and flashcards!

Matthew Worwood November 13, 2015 - 2:44 am

Thanks for your comment Jennifer. I wish there was away to see what’s happening in their heads – but I suppose that’s why we have Hollywood! Come back soon.

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Kathy Worwood August 10, 2016 - 9:43 pm

I also had a childhood question that never got answered. Why, I asked, are apes not still changing into early man and man?, whilst being told about evolution. Many years later I found an answer that fitted for me. Just as we have different species of dogs, one species of apes evolved into man, others evolved into the apes we see now. Not sure if its the correct answer but it seemed to satisfy me.


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