Today, the gift of imagination. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
A child's imagination is a wonderful world. Young children are often privileged with unbiased and innocent imaginative minds. Perhaps nothing is impossible in a child's mind. This human treasure in the hands of nurturing parents and educators can become a strong foundation for a child's future creativity.
Lev S. Vygotsky [Wikipedia image]
As I was pondering this view, I came across a phrase from a Columbia University anthropologist, Michael Taussig: "The adult's imagination of the child's imagination." Taussig suggests that an adult's imagination mirrors that of a child and a child's imagination reflects that of an adult. They interact continuously.
As adults, we're fascinated by children's imaginative minds. Do we subconsciously tap into our childhood frame of imagination?
More questions arise: What is imagination? How does it begin?
According to Russian developmental psychologist L. S. Vygotsky, imagination is a form of human consciousness. It first appears in a young child and it's often initiated by an action. Vygotsky suggests that when a young child plays, he or she transforms imagination into action. Hence, an important emphasis on the role of "play" in children. As we grow older, this relation is reversed: Imagination becomes "play" without the action.
Children playing: an exercise of our imagination at early age
[Wikipedia image by Artaxerxes]
Psychologists have long debated the role of imaginative vs. realistic mind. Some believe that fantasy and play is only unique to a young child and may diminish in adulthood. Harvard professor Paul Harris explains that this is wrong: "Human beings have a gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age, and then continues to make all sorts of contributions to our intellectual and emotional life throughout the lifespan."
And this brings us back to my original thought: imagination and science. The gift of imagination has "played" a significant role in our scientific discoveries, technological inventions, creative arts and literature. Most of us use imagination on a daily basis: We imagine a goal or a state of being to work toward; we imagine alternative decisions and their potential outcomes to make an intelligent decision. Our logical and imaginative minds work hand in hand. Imagination is hard to define, slippery to recognize — and yet essential to the well-functioning children, and the adults they become.
I'm Haleh Ardebili at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.
Landing on the moon: our imagination at work [NASA Apollo Archive]
L.S. Vygotsky, Imagination and Creativity in Childhood, Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol 42, no. 1, pp. 7-97, originally published in 1967; English Translation in 2004.
Natalia Gajdamaschko, Vygotsky on imagination: Why an understanding of the imagination is an important issue for schoolteachers, Teaching Education, Volume 16, Issue 1, pages 13-22, 2005.
This episode first aired on September 17, 2013.