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To what extent is imagination important in playing the role of gaining new knowledge?


May 31, 2016 by yukidaru

Two years ago, shocking news ran through Japan. A scientist claimed of the success in the reproduction of the STAP cell, and was treated as a significant discovery. However, after few investigations, it was revealed that she used another cell in order to fake the creation of the cell, also other methods in the faking of the discovery. From this news, I thought that (ignoring about whether she did it on purpose or not) scientific discovery comes from a small question and the imagination of the scientist. Moreover, scientific discovery is in an extremely close position with false. In this case, imagination was used in a way that should not be used, to cheat rather than to discover. It is possible that she was so eager to get a result; she did something she should not do. People might think that imagination as a way of knowing harms people, but I think that imagination is greatly necessary in gaining new knowledge.

Imagination is a special function that human beings have. We are allowed to create our fictional world based on what we obtained in the real world. Other animals might also be able to imagine things, but something special with human being is that we can express it outside of ourselves, to the others, influencing others. For example, scientific experiments are created based on scientific knowledge, and imagination. Without new methods of experiment, there will be no possibility of new knowledge gained.

I believe that imagination is the origin of every discovery, including the other AOKs and WOKs. For instance, language is an important piece of device in order for people to communicate and share their personal knowledge making it into a shared knowledge for everyone. To gain new knowledge, language is definitely needed. This convenient and significant tool is created by imagination. For example, the creation of Hanzi (Kanji) is due to the imagination of the ancient Chinese people, where they saw and transferred nature as symbols, in the form that people can understand. Kanji played a significant role in ancient China and Japan, when the famous philosophers and governors wanted to express and share their idea. The development of the ideas that they gain comes from their studies and imagination. Art adds the painter or drawers sensitivity to what they want to express, it is a kind of language and is created by the combination of things that the painters see in the real world and in their inner world. For the study of history, imagination might seem not suited, but I think to develop yourself as a historian, imagination is necessary in order to imagine how the people in the old time thought and why the acted out in certain ways. History is not just about gaining knowledge and remembering what kind of event had happened in the past. Of course, evidence is needed, but imagination supports the new discovery of historical facts. Last but not least, natural science and human science needs imagination for new discoveries, which is the new knowledge that people gain. If there is a lack of imagination, people would only accept what happens in front of them, and except it with out thinking.

From my experience, imagination helps me to study. To understand theories and laws in science subjects, I use my imagination to visualize what I want to understand or remember. For instance for biology classes, it is hard to just remember what the textbook is saying, but it would be much easier to understand and gain the knowledge that I need by visualization. To visualize, imagination plays a great role.

Imagination can make 0 into 1 or make 1 into 100. In other words, it makes anything possible. But to imagine, understanding the events and laws in the universe is crucial. Without the understanding of the facts, imagination cannot be expanded. This might be contradicting because, I don’t know if imagination comes first before the gain of knowledge, or gain of knowledge comes first before imagination, which leads to the gaining of new knowledge. Anyway, the connection of imagination and understanding is significant, and cannot be ignored.


  1. cathyk says:

    I find your last point quite thought provoking. Indeed, just like how many wonder ‘which came first–the chicken or the egg?’, it’s hard to tell whether it was imagination or knowledge that had existed first. Nonetheless, I believe that the two are interconnected and that one flourishes the other.

    You talked about how different ways of knowing and areas of knowledge can help one gain new knowledge, and you point out that imagination is crucial. I agree with you. For instance, in the natural sciences, how can one innovate or discover if he or she cannot conceive of a new idea? Scientists need a hypothesis–which is conceived through imagination–to construct an experiment and test out results. If imagination is not present, the whole cycle ceases to exist.

    However, I’d like to contend that intuition and faith also play a key role in obtaining new knowledge. For example, in mathematics, to prove theorems, intuition can guide one in a particular direction. It may just be a ‘gut feeling’, but people listen to these feelings because they mark the starting point of a discovery. Faith is an invisible kind of belief. Scientists are willing to pursue their experiments because they believe in their judgments and, more importantly, themselves. Without faith, this strong driving force, people may just give up too easily. And how could new knowledge be discovered without tireless effort and belief?

    Your real life situation about how a scientist ‘cheated’ to fake her results led me another knowledge question: “How reliable is new knowledge?”. If people can just ‘fake’ evidence until others find out their schemes, what is the credibility of evidence based on?

  2. lisactt says:

    I also agreed that imagination is more important than the knowledge. Our current knowledge might have some errors. The imagination could avoid us to have a limit based on the current rules and theories. The most famous example is Nikolaj Kopernik who created Heliocentrism. The imagination helped people to jump out from the fixed frame which may reach the truth.

    However, I questioned about the statement you make “imagination is the origin of every discovery”. Sometimes, the coincidence also plays a role during the process of gaining new knowledge. For example, the discovery of penicillin, x-ray, density and etc. are all inspired from some coincidences. Though people got the imagination, they still need some inspiration to leads the way.

    We use ‘visionary’ to describe people who are imaginative but ignore the application in the real world. Only seeking for new theory and idea is not effective. I think we have to combine the practicalness and theory together.

  3. jayeren says:

    Great response! You extended Yuki’s topic and added your own understanding on this subject. The last paragraph of your response matches perfectly with the content of TOK presentation of my group.

    Scientists follow a standardised process of exploration to develop a theory: random observation > hypothesis > observation (a process of finding evidences that is driven from the beginning by a question that needs to be answered) > repeating test > conclusion. We normal people may believe whatever they say because they provide evidence of following this process, and we view this evidence as an unmistakeable way of seeking truth.

    Then to what extent are methodologies accurate? To what extent can methodologies be counted as evidence of truth? And how can we identify the fake from the “truth”?

  4. jessicayang says:

    You gave a real life situation in natural science in the first paragraph, and you connected TOK with it well. I agree that scientist all use imagination to gain new knowledge and create new theory. Imagination is definitely important in gaining new knowledge. You mentioned that imagination plays a role in gaining knowledge in Human Science too, but you haven’t given out some examples.

    From my experience, I use imagination in painting during the classed of visual arts. When I asked some advises from my art teacher about my painting, she would just tell me what should I add to make the paint more beautiful. After hearing her words, I had to use imagination to understand the concepts and learned the knowledge about art. From my own example, imagination does not walk alone in the process of gaining new knowledge. Sense perceptions collaborate with imagination. People have to see, hear, smell or touch something before they imagine. Without sense perceptions, can people imagine anymore? Then, to what extent is sense perception important in playing the role of gaining new knowledge?

    Yes, imagination plays an important role in gaining new knowledge, but I believe there’s more TOK behind imagination itself, you can expand your point by digging deeper.

  5. nancyyin says:

    According to your example, I think people have to have some knowledge in certain area, then the imagination can work based on it. And I agree it is really hard to tell if it is knowledge or imagination since we do not know that area of knowledge.

    There is another real life situation. A Chinese farmer brought up his own theory about physics. But no one believed or supported him. After several years, another famous scientist brought this theory again. Then people realized what that farmer said is actually can be applied in some extent. It leads to another knowledge: what influence us when we choose to trust others or not?

    In the real life, not everyone is an expert in science. In the fact, we cannot or hard to tell the new investigation is knowledge or imagination from the information, which is supplied by those scientists. The external factors such as fame will play very important roles in this situation. At the most time when people collect data to improve something, the more the sample, the more reliable the results are. So how much evidence is enough to prove the truth?

  6. Akane Kuma says:

    You mentioned that imagination is crucial to your study and understanding of the world. However, how do you know that your imagination would draw an accurate model for you? To what extent is imagination reliable? In many cases, emotion and personal knowledge gets in the way so your imagination is lead to a certain point rather than the reality. You also mentioned that scientific discoveries were first all imagination–imagination has driven natural laws. I also had a question about this. Sometimes imagination can lead people to have biases. If to say imagination inspired the rest of the discovery, what exact role does imagination play there?

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