Imagination, not Dispassionate Imprecision

[ The Note for November 2014 ]

Quoting Albert Einstein, Azar Nafisi reminds us of the vital importance of imaginative vision for actually seeing and making sense of the universe we inhabit. Said the scientist: “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Stripping the arts out of education doesn’t make us more certain, it makes us less agile, less able to discern what is real in the shifting landscape of experience. The result is devaluation of the human and standardization of thought. Both are ethically unacceptable, and both are costly to society as a whole. Nafisi also quotes Nabokov, who like Einstein and herself was an immigrant citizen whose passion for democracy, basic rights, and human imagination, strengthened our republic. Nabokov would tell students to work “with the passion of a scientist and the precision of a poet.” We are now, as a society, in danger of losing both. We ask scientists to be simply readers of facts, not impassioned explorers, and we misunderstand poetry as a pleasant indulgence, not as the linguistic and expressive frontiersmanship that it is. To deaden both of these for a generation of talents is to deprive our own future economy of what is most valuable: free people dignified by a capacity for the sublime and an aversion to the grave costs of dispassionate imprecision.

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