Reasoning versus Imagination?

Jack Hassard wishes us well (and tasks us with being as provocative as we can) in his blog named after his book, The Art of Teaching Science (Oxford, 2004). Summarizing his own approach to science education, he credits Jacob Bronowski as his main inspiration, especially his belief that reasoning and imagination work closely together. Hassard quotes Bronowski at perhaps his most provocative: "You may have been told, you may still have the feeling that E=mc2 is not an imaginative statement. If so, you are mistaken."

Georgia Tech's Mark Guzdial, in his Computing Education blog, takes exception to this: reasoning, he says is not the same cognitive activity as imagining: "reasoning involves a critical component, a requirement to apply discipline, that imagining does not."

The legendary Alan Kay responding to the post, short-circuits the one-to-one relationship that Guzdial sees: "Bronowski does not equate the two," insists Kay. Kay worked with Bronowski in the 1970s and both regard science, says Kay, as not about "facts and dogma" but rather "about imagination supported by both reason and investigation." Science is different from reasoning and storytelling but depends on both. Science for Kay is essentially about trying to relate what goes on in our head (reasoning and imagination) with what goes on out in the universe. Both need each other for the magic to happen.

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Darwinian evolution equals imagination while science equals reasoning. Facts are things that can be proven. Pretty drawings and fancy guesswork are products of a great imagination.

A lot of people miss this. You need imagination to draw, from the same things everyone else is looking at, a novel hypothesis that can be tested. You need reasoning to figure out what else would be true if that hypothesis was true. You need imagination to come up with a good experiment to test those ideas... A really inspired experiment requires a great deal of imagination.