By Emer Kelly
Einstein was undoubtedly a genius. He knew, and understood, the importance of visuals. Humans are designed to identify patterns in their world. Give us a tree, a foggy window, or a piece of toast and we will find a face in them. Give us the stars and we will connect them. Images are a fundamental part of who we are.
We’re taught that words are important, and they are, but they are not all that is important. When it really comes down to it, words are simply a carrier for images. Words describe a scene so the imagination can conjure it. Words describe a concept so the mind can picture it.
Einstein didn’t only understand visuals, he lived by them. Words and mathematical equations were foreign to him. When Jacques Hadamard asked Einstein how he thought, he told him words and language were not involved:
The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be "voluntarily" reproduced and combined.
For Einstein, words were a secondary phase in the development of his theories. Images came first, and then came the laborious process of applying words to them. Furthermore, Einstein’s ideas came to him, not from careful reading and research, but in flashes of insight and imagination.
He saw his work as a kind of artistry, a grand mix of intuition and inspiration. He believed the greatest scientists were artists as well. Today, there so often seems to be a dichotomy between art and science. You are one or the other, logical or intuitive. For Einstein, the two were inextricably intertwined.
When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge.
So the next time you find yourself daydreaming, scribbling, and doodling on a piece of paper, don’t scold yourself. Remember Einstein and allow yourself the freedom to reason and express yourself through images. You never know where it might take you.
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Photo: Street painting of Albert Einstein by Eduardo Kobra