Artsy Science: Einstein and the Secret of the Imagination

Artsy ScienceToday’s post is the first in a collection of posts on the artistic side of science.  Through both art and science, we humans try to make sense of the world around us, and the two fields have a lot more in common than you might expect.

* * *

For this initial post in Artsy Science, I want to share some quotes from one of the 20th Century’s most famous musicians: Albert Einstein.  You may not have known that Einstein was a dedicated violinist.  He never traveled anywhere without his most beloved instrument.  He also played the piano, and there are many apocryphal stories about him solving complex mathematical puzzles while practicing his music.  To Einstein, art and science were merely two separate branches of the same tree.

Here is what Einstein had to say about art and science:

  • Music does not influence research work, but both are nourished by the same sort of longing, and they complement each other in the release they offer.
  • I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
  • The most beautiful experience we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

Most of Einstein’s discoveries were not made in a lab but in his own mind.  After reading about vexing mysteries uncovered by other scientists, Einstein would sit back and try to picture these mysterious phenomena from new perspectives, and then later attempt to describe in scientific terms what he had imagined.  Einstein called these “thought experiments.”

In an age when our society has become rigidly fact oriented, often intolerant of daydreamers, free spirits, and other such time wasters, we should remember Albert Einstein’s work and what it reveals about the power of the human imagination.  And maybe we should all take a few moments to pause, close our eyes, and engage in a few “thought experiments” of our own.

P.S.: If your thought experiments lead you to any important discoveries, please share them in the comments below!