You and Your Imagination

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Nov 08, 2008

"Imagination is the highest kite one can fly."
Lauren Bacall

Have you ever just watched a child at play? Trains and cars and tools and blocks become lifelike to little minds with creative, inspired imagination. They can sit mesmerized by the hour as they enter their make-believe worlds. 

A walk through a toy store awakens limitless possibilities. From Bob the Builder to Barbie the Doll and from Thomas the Train to Dora the Explorer little eyes light up with curiosity and imagination. How easily they can step in and out of those imaginary worlds. 

But one does not need to spend huge amounts of money on plastic toys to cultivate a child's imagination. Give him a shovel and a pile of sand or her a few marbles and a flat surface and you have enough to occupy any child for an entire afternoon. 

Imagination, however, is much more than child's play. John Dewey understood this when he observed, "Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of the imagination." Even Albert Einstein said, "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." 

Steven Levitt is brilliant. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard, earned a Ph.D. from M.I.T., and earned a full professorship at the University of Chicago (tenured after just two years of teaching). And in addition to fellowships at Harvard and Stanford, he acquired a long list of awards along the way. 

One would ask what drives his quest for truth? Why does he teach a course at the University of Chicago titled "Introduction to Doing Empirical Research?" Liz Seymour summarized Levitt with the words "A most curious mind." 

Steven Levitt has an insatiable curiosity. He thinks of himself as a detective. "What I'm best at," he says, "is taking a big pile of data and figuring out what it has to say." 

"I love the kinds of questions that I think everyone is getting the wrong answer to," he says. "I like the questions that look hard but are actually easy." 

Curiosity and imagination go together. They ask the "What if..." and "Why not..." and "How about..." questions. They stir us to keep looking, asking, searching, pondering, wondering, and seeking. 

As I move through my day to day world sometimes I feel like my imagination is on steroids. I understand some of what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said, "You see things; and you say 'why'? but I dream things that never were; and I say, 'why not'"? 

Here on our campus we are updating our strategic plan. As I walk to my office each day past an old military gym and look beyond it to acres of undeveloped land my imagination soars. I can see a new athletic complex. I can see new athletic fields. I can see a new dining commons. I can see a new student center. I can see a large Chapel/Fine Arts Center. 

I remember that same walk eleven years ago when I imagined the removal of old buildings, nicely paved roads, a new library, a new residence hall, a new academic building. I see them today but my imagination keeps going and going and going. 

Someone said, "Anyone who thinks the sky is the limit, has limited imagination." 

But what will that cost? Where will we get the money? How do we get from here to there? 

I am not exactly sure how to answer all of those questions but I know this: if we can't imagine the possibilities, the possibilities will never be realized. As Charles Kettering said, "Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future." 

Next time you watch a child playing or an architect designing or a musician composing or an educator teaching, may their imagination inspire yours. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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