Wednesday, November 28, 2012


"I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research."
― Albert Einstein

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere."
― Carl Sagan

"Imagination means nothing without doing."
― Charlie Chaplin 

"Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humour to console him for what he is."
Francis Bacon

"Lovers and madmen have such seething brains
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends."
William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

"Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination."
― John Dewey

"Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine - it is stranger than we CAN imagine."
― Arthur Stanley Eddington (paraphrased by Richard Dawkins)

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
― John Lennon   
There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun."
― Pablo Picasso

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics which deals with the wildly differing outcomes resulting from small differences in inputs. Its discovery (invention?) is accredited to American meteorologist Edward Lorenz who was trying to come up with a computer program to predict weather patterns in 1961. He discovered that tiny changes can lead to large effects. So tiny, in fact, that this led to the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing could have an effect on weather patterns in New York a month later. Chaos Theory resulted in paradigm shifts not only in mathematics, but across the natural sciences. It dealt a blow to the idea that events in nature can be thought of as being deterministic - in much the same way that Heiseberg's Uncertainty Principle did.

A Butterfly in Beijing

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Importance of Imagination

There are many examples of great thinkers experiencing a flash of inspiration or a 'eureka' moment. Some put their insight down to particular or different ways of visualising things. This, by definition, is imagination, or 'the ability to form new images and sensations that are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses'.

One nice story of imagination playing a role in scientific discovery is the account of the dreams of German chemist August Kekulé. It was the vivid images of his dreams that allowed him to visualise the structures of organic molecules (most famously as a snake eating its own tail).

The Reveries of Kekule