Canon Australia's The Lab: Imagi-nation or land of distant dreamers

6th December 2016

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.

by G K Chesterton

Imagination is as priceless and as highly sought-after as true love…the great thing that distinguishes us from robots. Along with creativity, imagination is the currency of success for us all. But what happens when we lose it? Do we REALLY lose it?

At what point do we stop imagining dragons when we see weirdly-shaped clouds? Must a traumatic event occur for us to stop doodling pencil sketches of wizards emerging from tunnels being chased by flawed beauty queens bearing unicorn horns? Perhaps imagination ends with childhood, a cruel blow that many of us never recover from.

If you’ve ever seen the film version of a book you loved, and left the cinema disappointed, it’s most likely because the film you imagined in your head, while you were reading the book – was a heck of a lot better than anything the movie director brought to life. Eragon – we’re pointing the finger at YOU (the movie in my imagination was far superior to yours…but why?!)

An exception to this might be the Harry Potter books, but that’s only because JK Rowling struck an arrangement with the film producers that the films must almost perfectly reflect the books, scene by scene. Paediatrician Robert Guaran doesn’t believe adults actually lose their imagination. Instead, our childhood imagination actually morphs into something else. Something more useful.

What happens is kids go through various stages of development and they experience ‘magical thinking.’ They don’t really understand the world, or science. They don’t understand things like gravity so they make up stories to explain things in the world.

by Robert Guaran

“If you don’t know all about science, then you make up stories. Imaginative play or creative play is an important component of all childhood. It peaks at nine or ten years of age. Then you go through adolescence, where you have an idea that you’re immortal, and all powerful – this is especially true for men. So we don’t really lose our imagination, it just changes,” Guaran said.

Well, it changes…but at what price? As a child, it’s a huge compliment to be told “You have a very active imagination.” As an adult, that phrase quickly morphs into an insult, especially when used in the middle of a conversation about relationships, accusations involving illicit love affairs or – even worse – when you declare you’re on track to being the CEO of a company that opens an office on Venus.

But all is not lost. Even the brainiest of us - scientists – tap into their childish imagination when the going gets tough.

“A scientist can show us how imaginative adults can be. They see a problem and use their imagination to come up with a solution: it might be the atomic bomb, or it might be medication that can cure a disease,” Guaran said.

“So what they are doing is taking all the knowledge they’ve got and say, ‘Ok, with all this knowledge, what’s the next step?’ They take their knowledge and they use their imagination to produce something extraordinary.”

So all is not lost. Our imagination never really leaves us. Even if we try to pretend we’ve outgrown our creativity, our imagination is right there waiting for us. Like a long lost friend. Well, imagine that.

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