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What's the difference between intelligence and imagination, and which is more useful in alleviating the human condition?

The difference between imagination and knowledge can be sharply defined. The difference between imagination and intelligence does not appear to be as easily delineated. One might say imagination is a subgroup of intelligence, but doesn't imagination often encompass the seemingly illogical? Or it might be said imagination is the catalyst for intellectual innovation, but isn't the imagined an interpolation of logical musing?

Albert Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge." But what about intelligence and imagination?


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  • Dec 27 2013: Hi Gord,

    It seems to me intelligence is a necessary precursor of legitimate imagination; perhaps just as knowledge is a precursor to intelligence.

    Albert Einstein point may have been that it is possible for one to be so obsessed with learning and becoming intelligent via acquiring knowledge that it becomes an exclusive end goal in itself. I would be willing to bet Einstein was not down playing acquiring knowledge, but rather suggesting high academic achievers are in a unique position to let their minds wander in light of what they have learned to "see" something significant others have overlooked that could shift academic exploration or perspective about something, which could lead to significant advances in what is thought to be.

    My view is more grounded in the hard sciences.

    I think intelligent people are more responsive to responsible behavior because knowing things tends to constrict one's willingness to buy into someone with an active imagination that often has a creative component, or agenda element less marketable to the more informed.

    We have plenty of "leaders" running around, and as to weather they are more useful in alleviating the human condition - perhaps if your just looking at popularity and financial success.

    Imagination can have incredible value as reflected in the arts. Isn't it interesting those masterpieces over the years appear to be most appreciated by the most intelligent among us?
    • Dec 31 2013: Hi Dan, Your comment triggered a few questions in my mind.

      If the developmental succession is knowledge > intelligence > imagination, do you believe imagination is a higher order of thought? And if so, how could it be taught?

      I also believe Einstein's intention was to emphasize the importance of imagination in developing new ideas (in all areas of life, not just academic). I also think pure knowledge can be stagnating. It may serve the ego rather than foster innovative thought.

      Responsible behaviour is a matter of perspective...generally a group consensus. Does imagination need to be marketable? Marketability is based on past performance, imagination is the creation of new indicators.

      Leaders are always popular, or they wouldn't be leaders for long. It seems current society values financial gain regardless of moral or ethical ambiguity. Which of course means real change needs to begin with an engaged public that can imagine a world different than what current politically entrenched intellectuals are suggesting.

      And lastly... many "masterpieces" are not recognized or accepted in their time. The intelligent only take an interest after the work has been elevated to a status symbol by certified cultural purveyors (cultural mavericks). Do you believe this is different within the scientific community? For example, Gregor Mendel's work regarding biological variations was largely unrecognized after its first publication in 1866, it was rediscovered in 1900.
      • Jan 2 2014: Happy New Year.

        Imagination, to me is most commonly associated with curiosity and that native sense to explore, but can be tied to, or even triggered by gaining knowledge via open review.

        In my upbringing it was clear by parental dictates and tradition that there was a God that explained everything (bible) and I didn't need to concern myself about asking how and why thing are as they are. The more I was told how things were, the more I discovered there were other ideas about how things came to be.

        I was into natural history almost genetically, even as a kid! My sense of curiosity (imagination) opened up an entire new world of knowledge about biology and chemistry which in turn have shaped how I perceive the natural world.

        I don't know that it is as important to teach imagination as it is to allow and/or inspire it. Obviously how things are perceived can cause conflict within a family, a class, friends, colleagues, etc.

        Perhaps the most important thing to teach regarding one's curiosity or imagination is the value of being true to yourself and appreciating how sensitive other individuals can be regarding belief systems.

        In my case, I feel a direct link between imagination (curiosity) and learning new knowledge which hopefully has fostered my intelligence in the process.

        I think we make a mistake by looking at definitions too rigidly, or too encompassingly.

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