Einstein and Imagination
Passing It On

Albert Einstein is known for his massive about of scientific knowledge as in E=mc?. However, I want you to remember two other things that he figured out in the field of imagination. While I have only 10-hours of science in all the years of college, grad, and post-grad studies, I really do understand, use, and benefit from these two observations about imagination.

The first is "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." The other insight is a parallel thought, "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Einstein was arguably the smartest scientific mind of the 20th century. Therefore, he was left-brain. Nevertheless, he was creative and imaginative, which is a right-brain ability. Whichever hemisphere is dominant for any of us, that dominance occurs at conception. It is not a choice that we decide upon at 21-years of age. Therefore, we enter the world with a particular mindset. Some love math and science, and others love art and creativity. That is not something about which we choose. Having said that, regardless which dominant hemisphere we have, we need to get at least comfortable in thinking process of the hemisphere that is not our strength.

Einstein address the critical nature of this in both his quotes. This is especially true for those whose forté is math and science. Einstein's knew math and science. Nonetheless, he saw the virtues of the imagination even over science. One's imagination can certainly broaden one's horizon. In reality, an imagination can be a bonus for those in science by making one think outside of the predetermined box of the rational mind.

Like any proud grandfather, I see in my two toddler grandchildren the presence of imagination. My wife and I babysit for them on a weekly basis since they were born, which in Jack's case is 4-years and Owen's 2-years. While Jack's imagination is easy to pick up, because he can express well-developed observations, Owen cannot express them yet at his age although he tries.

Al with Jack and Owen

In the past four years, I have written many articles about Jack and Owen. I love to observe their growth intellectually. Their presence in my life has affected me at this end of my life. Being in my early 70s and having danced with death, I see my finiteness in stark reality.

For example, I cannot recall why Jack wanted to sit in my car when we are playing in his yard. It is 6-year old VW Jetta. However, Jack has wanted to sit in the driver's seat and play with the steering wheel every week while it is parked in his parent's driveway. Why is absolutely beyond me. I will sit next to him and talk. He will asked where I want to have him drive us. I will run through a long list of places like the local CVS, a grocery store, an eatery, and the fire station. The next thing that I hear is Jack making the sound of the car's motor as his imaginative mind drives off to my chosen destination.

While I do this at least a couple of times each week for the past couple of years, it forces me to be creative in my destinations so as not to disappoint Jack with mere repetition of the places where we have already driven. Since he and Owen knew that my wife and I had spent a month traveling in Myanmar/Burma six months ago, I will intersperse places like Yangon, Mandalay, or Inle Lake. Now, Owen rides in the passenger side and watches.

Jack and Owen in the car

Owen is watching Jack's imagining driving to Yangon with some serious doubts. He is thinking that Jack cannot even look over the steering wheel and his foot cannot touch the gas pedal at the same time. And besides, Owen is wondering about whether Papa's Jetta can really make it across the Andaman Sea, since the car has a lot of miles on it.

Nevertheless, talking about these various places is a great learning experience for Jack and Owen. Jack wants to know what is there and all about what it was like to have been there. As I write this essay, my computer monitor has a photo that I took at Inle Lake of a local fisherman. Jack has seen the background of the guy fishing at Inle Lake and knows more about Myanmar as a 4-year old than most Americans.


In the time since Jack started using his imagination about driving me all over, Owen watches everything that Jack does and mimics it. Owen wants to be behind the wheel himself and not merely the passenger. I am now in the place where we are discussing sharing driving time between the two boys as they motor around the world in my Jetta and their imagination.

Recently, in addition to driving all over the world, Jack and Owen spend much time pushing buttons on the dashboard, which creates problems since one of them controls the volume and the other CD selections. Sibling rivalry is apparent in their imaginary world of being grown up.

This is photo of Albert Einstein at the age of three. I wonder where in time and space his imagination took him in as a toddler in 1882.

Albert Einstein as a 3-year old

Albert Einstein as a 3-year old

As I have mentioned, I have written about Einstein many times in the past and taught about him in history classes. Interestingly, he had a part of his brain almost completely missing that the rest of us have. Most of the Sylvian fissure or the lateral sulcus of Einstein's was much smaller than the rest of our Sylvian fissures.

The Sylvian fissure or lateral sulcus

The Sylvian fissure or lateral sulcus

While Einstein saved some space by not having to use it for his Sylvian fissure, the benefit was that his parietal lobe used that space. That is a possible explanation Einstein being smarter than most of us. This medical information regarding the Sylvian fissure could explain why Jack and Owen are so smart and imaginative at the same time.