Category: writing

einsteinI am currently doing online language lessons to a group of university students  who are preparing for the IELTS exam.

Last week I set them the writing task (at least 250 words) of considering to what extent they agree or disagee with this quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

I thought of this question without considering  how I would answer it myself.  Before correcting their work, therefore, I  wrote my own version which I submit here for your evaluation:

Before considering the correctness of this provocative statement, it is necessary to reflect on what Albert Einstein meant by the words and concepts of ‘imagination’ and ‘knowledge’.

Given the reputation of the celebrated physicist, this quote cannot simply be dismissed as a throwaway remark. In other words, it should not be viewed in the same way as the sound bites of politicians and celebrities which are designed merely to gain publicity rather than to enlighten the populace.

We should therefore assume Einstein was in earnest when praising the role of imagination in thinking. The suggestion is that creativity allows a greater scope and depth to our thoughts that are not possible when they are restricted to facts alone. In this regard, it is worth reflecting on what is commonly understood by the word ‘knowledge’.

The gaining of knowledge can be defined as the accumulation of facts and information which enable us to make rational decisions. Rationality and logic are key concepts here; these place a high value upon reason. Following instincts or ‘gut reactions’ to events or situations is implicitly frowned upon. Following such a philosophy rigidly appears to leave little space for creativity.

The danger of sticking solely to fact-based responses comes when applying this knowledge to complex problems or unexpected events. Innovative thinking usually requires taking a more lateral approach and this entails imagining less conventional options.

This is, in my view, the essence of what Einstein was recommending. His provocative remark should not be viewed as a dismissal of knowledge but rather as a reminder that sometimes we should give ourselves permission for the heart to rule the head. By imagining other ways of being and doing our minds are open to infinite possibilities.

In conclusion, I would agree with Einstein that knowledge tends to narrow down our options leading to blinkered thinking and predictable responses. With imagination in full flow, the world is our oyster.  (322 words)

What grade would you give me (from 0 to 9.0)?



Screen shot 2019-11-17 at 09.51.41I am currently reading Ursula K.Le Guin’s wonderful collection of talks and essays – ‘The Wave Of The Mind’.

One essay, written for her own entertainment in the 1990s, is entitled ‘Collectors, Rhymesters And Drummers’ and contains this quote on the importance of words that I wish I had read as a student of English Literature when I was at school :

“Words, whether in poetry or prose, are as physical as paint and stone, as much a matter of voice and ear as music, as bodily as dancing.

I think it is a major error in criticism ever to ignore the words. Literally, the words: the sound of the words – the movement and pace of sentences – the rhythmic structures that the words establish and are controlled by.

A pedagogy that relies on the “Cliff Notes” sort of thing travesties the study of literature. To reduce the aesthetic values of a narrative to the ideas it expresses, to its “meaning,” is a drastic impoverishment. The map is not the landscape.”

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Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

I still find myself wanting to read as much as possible as a way of making sense of the world and my own place within it.

I aim to increase the number of blog posts on what I’m reading. These will probably serve more as a reminder to myself rather than offering any particularly profound insights, but who knows. In any event, writing is the best way of organizing thoughts. Making these public gives an added incentive not to be flippant, sloppy, unkind or lazy.

The simple pleasure of making new discoveries and revisiting old favorites is an end in itself. The joys are an antidote to the cynical business-minded world in which, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, consumers are conditioned to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

To confirm this, I was happy to stumble upon something Ursula K Le Guin said in a speech at the National Book Awards in 2014 : “Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words”.

Why bother to blog?

leapThis blog is in need of a reboot.

I’ve been writing it for almost ten years now and find myself increasingly facing a writer’s block.

For a couple of years I managed to write something every single day but recently the average number of posts has fallen to around four a month.

I feel better about myself when I do manage to get something down and it’s also useful to look back and gauge my changing moods and interests over the years.

But the devil in my head continues to whisper ‘Why bother?’ and directs my gaze to the steady fall in the number of views in the last few years. Despite having almost a thousand followers, it’s hard to ignore this inner negativity and to shake the feeling that my words simply get sucked into the void of cyberspace.

Still, whenever I have to think about a good personal quality I normally opt for perseverance. I’m not a smooth talker or a particularly fast learner and tend to distrust those who are skilled in these two fields.

What is a handicap in social settings can be an advantage when writing. Blogging fits my character because it gives me time to think before expressing myself even though this also means I too often keep well within my comfort zone.

So the next time the little demonic mind fucker asks ‘Why bother?’ I will reply that writing for the sake of it is a goal in itself and remind myself that looking before leaping doesn’t always save you from falling.

161037Quote of the day.

In Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark,  the protagonist and aspiring writer is reflecting on  the two main types of novels he found in his local public library:

“One kind was a sort or written cinema, with plenty of action and hardly any thought. The other kind was about clever unhappy people, often authors themselves, who thought a lot but didn’t do very much”.

A sweeping generalization perhaps, but there is a lot of truth in this.

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