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February 27 2012

The new trend amongst proponents of new age thinking, and believers of everything that is illogical is to hold imagination as “better” or more important than knowledge.  This seems to be the result of the human ability to consciously and subconsciously misinterpret facts and knowledge. It appears that some of us will engage in fallacious logic in order to rationalize our emotional tendencies, and in the worst of cases, to justify our own agenda.  This new “philosophy” (and I use this term tentatively, and with the intent to refer to a style of doctrine rather than a rational investigation of truth and the principles surrounding it) is centered on the ill-inferred meaning of some of Albert Einstein’s utterances.   And the great scientist did say many things publicly that made little sense to those who knew him well.  It is important to know that his sense of irony and humor were notoriously difficult to follow.  He was a master of poetic ambiguity; and 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 was attempting to diminish the value of scientific understanding or education.  Nevertheless, here I challenge all who consider this to read his actual works and get a better appreciation for his intentions.

As harmless as this misunderstanding may seem to some, it presents an extraordinary threat to logic and reason.  Many have taken his genius as support for 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 is annoyingly terrifying to the critical person.

In his address to the Physical Society of Berlin, Principles of Research, 1918 – Albert Einstein eloquently expresses the imaginative intuition required by theoretical physicists to be successful in their field.  He also illustrates the imperative need to reconcile this “imagination” with true objective facts and a tangible body of knowledge.  It is true that our ability to imagine or to be inventive is essential to discovery and progress. However, to consider that “it” alone can manifest into existence without, at least, a pragmatic understanding of the physical world and natural laws, is ridiculously irresponsible.  Imagination, from the perspective of a scientist is the launch pad for the fantastic vehicle of thought, which we ride into the wonderful realm of mystery and discovery.  We should never let go of our appreciation for all our mysteries, the deepest of all being our own ability to think and to contemplate our existence – consciousness.  Imagination is very important here, yet, it can only take us as far as “seeing” the mystery, without solving it.  It is ever so important to have passion for the work we do and for the means and tools we employ to arrive at the realization of truth – this 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 difficult to resist.  This is yet another part of his presentation that has been 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, which gathered under his own supervision contains essays from early in his career until his last writing of 1954, the year before his death.  In the first part of the book, Einstein focuses on aspects of human existence beyond the scope of the purely scientific world, demonstrating a keen awareness of the importance of the moral and intellectual aspects of nature.  The second section provides a thorough overview of Einstein’s major contributions to science.  Ideas and Opinions contains essays on subjects ranging from atomic energy, relativity, and religion to human rights, government, and economics. Previously published articles, speeches, and letters are gathered here to create a fascinating collection of meditations by one of the world’s greatest minds.

While contemplating our predisposition to self deceive and to misinterpret the most concrete of understandings, I find that there is a greater principle influencing this behaviour. Due to our advanced cerebra and its necessity to establish order in its environment, subjectivity is a prevalent standard of attitudes in the world of experience.  It has been accepted by many that all is subjective, or up to interpretation, making the point of view of the individual the only reality to be considered; moreover, any objective observation of the world is labeled hateful and negative.  The new-age community has capitalized 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 both of these notions is beyond the scope of this article; I do however recommend that all with an interest in social psychology look deeper into them.

Subjectivity as a governing law of the human sphere enables us to cope with many of life’s great stressors.  It allows us to balance some of the most complex of social equations, like belief systems and spiritual predispositions.  It also, and most importantly, shelters us from the independent indifference of objective reality, which in turn, threatens to challenge our egotistical  geocentric models.

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

Indulge for a second, or apprehend for longer if you will, the idea that our thoughts create our reality or as delusional (most likely dishonest) muppets like Joe Eigo claim, that our consciousness manifests into the physical world as a direct effect of our observation of it.  With all the different conceptions, feelings, expectation and emotional states possible in your mind alone, and which cannot possibly be synchronized 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 strongly believe that finding the truth is about intellectual honesty; it is not only about asking the right questions but also, primarily, about accepting the right answers despite our feelings about them.  Fear of being wrong will lead us to accept potentially false concepts, and in essence, it will lessen our capacity for reality testing, and negatively affect our interpretation and or reinterpretation of incoming empirical data.

There are many more factors to consider when attempting to understand our self-deceptive propensity – almost an obscene predilection – however, I have presented you with a précis of the negative consequences of the intellectual dishonesty these new-age tenets not only embrace but also glorify as virtue.  It is my hope that we 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 literary 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, confers on us the honours of truth, and brings us closer to our illusive reality.  Notice I have not provided any quotes attributed to Einstein.  Respectful of your intelligence, I have pointed to the sources behind my reasoning, whilst being certain that you can be respectful of your own acumen and verify the information I have 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 skepticism and doubt.

Consent to nothing I can say to you, on bad evidence, and if you are to accept anything I proclaim to be true, let it be to fear and to loathe the individual who would influence you to stop thinking, and in so doing, repudiate your God given right to know the truth.

Peyton Dracco