Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Learn to be imaginative in thinking

December 9, 2009

Learn to be imaginative in thinking

A Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D.

Last week, I presented Tim Hurson's philosophy that our future depends less on what we know and more on what we think: How we think determines the quality of what we do, the life we lead.

As we're now only two weeks away from Christmas, a season to be joyful and reflective, it is worthwhile to continue examining his ideas. Maybe it would help inspire some readers' New Year's resolutions.

Lest we miss the point, it's not that what we know is unimportant. To the contrary, knowledge is an essential element of quality thinking. But unless we apply it and think critically, we cannot get to the root of any problem. So crucial is it to think critically that the Foundation for Critical Thinking dubs it not only a "core value," but also a "requirement for economic and social survival" in the 21st century.

French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire said, "No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking."

I've previously observed in this space the analogy that water is hot at 211 degrees, and boils at 212. That extra degree makes all the difference. The steam produced by boiling water can power an engine. A crucial bit of knowledge can be the difference between success or frustration in a science laboratory.

British Dr. Alec Bourne's well quoted, "It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated," and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes Jr.'s, "The main part of intellectual
education is not the acquisition of facts but learning how to make facts alive," spearheaded Hurson's "think better to do better."

Man, a creature of habit, thinks what he has always thought and does what he has always done. He repeats past thoughts and actions, which have become patterned -- "fossilized," says Hurson, who also called the
process, "reproductive thinking" -- as opposed to "productive" thinking. The outcome is predictable.

In his book "Think Better," Hurson advises: Don't repeat past thoughts and actions. That kills creativity. Start "thinking new thoughts" – think outside the box.

World-famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Imagination is the beginning of creation: you imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will." Physicist Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

Hurson asserts, "To create the future, you have to be able to imagine." In my column last week, I quoted Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, who said he is not ready to cede the 21st century to China "just yet," because he thinks although China may have a lot going for her, America still has "important things" that cannot be commoditized. One is "imagination." Americans still have the ability to "imagine and spin off new ideas" to thrive -- "What your citizens imagine now matters more than ever because they can act on their own imaginations farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before -- as individuals," Friedman wrote. The other "thing" that is not a commodity is "good governance, which can harness creativity."

Good governance includes, among other things, accountability, transparency, equity, inclusiveness and rule of law. There is no creativity where free thoughts are curtailed as in an autocratic regime and imagination is just a word.

As we connect these dots, we should use this holiday season to reflect on what we want for our own future. Imagine it, as Shaw and Hurson would say. Friedman would say, imagine and "spin off new ideas." For
Friedman, people who have new ideas, who imagine and innovate, are the one who prosper.

If you have 3 minutes and 36 seconds to spare, you would find it worthwhile to Google "212" and watch a very inspiring video about how your life can change by turning up the heat one extra degree, from 211 to 212 degrees. As the video caption says, "It's your life."

The video advises: "Having a simple, clearly defined goal can capture the imagination and inspire passion." And it assures: "The only thing that stands between a person and what they want in life is the will to try it and the faith to believe it possible."

It tells you on the screen: "To get what we've never had, we must do what we've never done." In other words, stop repeating the old. Obviously, nothing is going to change until a first step is taken to head toward a desired goal. And you don't need to see the end of the road before you make your journey. English essayist Dr. Samuel Johnson, who published his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, said it well: "Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome."

So use this holiday season to begin your journey. The 19th-century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh produced more than 2,000 artworks, though he died at 37. He's known today as one of the world's great painters. In his words, "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."

So, let's begin our first small things today. If we do something wonderful, other people may imitate us. Today, show a smile, say hello, wish someone a good day, say thank you, demonstrate compassion and humility.

And we will see still water ripple in wider and wider circles when the surface is disturbed.

A proverb goes, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

A Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at



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