The Value of the Imagination in Art and Science
Since I can remember I have been fascinated by creative individuals, whether they were philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir, architects like Zaha Hadid or scientists, like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. These thinkers transformed their fields into something previously unconceivable. We do not only value their important discoveries, writings or revolutionary art, we value them for their imaginative thinking which made the conception of those products possible. The imagination has played a constitutive role in discoveries in science, and conceptualising art and expression outside of the accepted rules of a particular school of thought. I remember very vividly the time when I first engaged with history and philosophy of science, learning about ancient Greek mathematicians, the constructions of revolutionary instruments during the enlightenment, and the revolutions in artistic expression in sculpture and architecture. While the subject mater was different, the stories had something in common: they were stories of highly imaginative individuals who stepped outside of established rules to create something new and valuable.
Great thinkers were able to imagine ways out of oppression, scientists were able to imagine the possibility of time travel, new forms of therapy and ways out of global pandemics. The Greek sculptors were able to imagine ways of defying gravity and making their rigid kouroi take their first steps, gradually leading to something as astonishing as the Discobolus of Myron. More recently, great architects like Zaha Hadid defied gravity once again, making building that were once considered impossible possible. Our imagination is integral to our understanding of the world, of what is possible and what could be. It is a faculty we ought to cultivate in our daily life and it holds the key to our intellectual and moral flourishing.
Milena Ivanova is a philosopher of science interested in the relationship between science and art, how aesthetic values influence scientific pursuits, and the role of creativity and the imagination in scientific discoveries, and the author of the book, Duhem and Holism, and co-editor of The Aesthetics of Science: Beauty, Imagination and Understanding.