Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” It is just one of a multitude of quotations he shared with the world in addition to his famous theories in physics. I am a firm believer in this and this was galvanized even more so last night when I tuned in to an episode of “The Daily Show” where Jon Stewart‘s guest was another great ambassador of science, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
During that interview, Tyson revealed that in order for us to be able to explore the boundaries of the great frontiers of science and exploration, sometimes we needed to “make things up”. Where he was going with this was the concept that when you are on the frontier edge of what is now known, sometimes you have to “make something up” that you think might be true to give you a road map to help you find out if it is actually true. This statement really hit home with me.
How many technological marvels do you have in your possession that were maybe just fanciful notions in the realm of science fiction just a few years ago? I will give you a couple of potential examples in just a moment. Anyone, that knows me, will soon know that I am a huge fan of science fiction. In particular, I am a big Star Trek fan. There are a couple of technological wonders that existed in those shows well before they became available to us today. Now I am not for a moment suggesting that these particular tech gadgets were, in fact, inspired by the show. However, it is fun to think that perhaps they could have been. So what are the objects I am thinking of anyway.
Way back in 1966, when the series began, no one had even heard of a cell phone. In fact even the military used large, bulky, communications equipment out in the field. The show introduced the “communicator”. This device started out rather large, and over the course of the original series’ run got much smaller. Does that sound familiar to anyone? The original man-portable cell phones (large bulky in-car versions were available as early as 1946 but very impractical for use) went mainstream in 1979. Over the last four decades or so, we have seen the technology improve to the point where availability world-wide is quite substantial. Additionally the technology has reached the point where our cell phones are similar in size and capability to the communicators we saw in a 60’s television show.
Another, much newer innovation, might have some roots in the Star Trek genre too. Okay, I know I’m probably reaching , but that’s what imagination is for. In 1987, the Star Trek series was reborn with Star Trek: The Next Generation. A whole new group of people were introduced to the worlds and technology within this genre. Of course this series took place about 100 years after the original series so it would stand to reason that there would be some interesting new gadgets right? One of those devices was called the PADD (or Personal Access Display Device). Not to get too geek tech on you, but the device was often in use in a variety of applications on the ship, and this was the mobile access point for the crew to get access to the main computer resources of the ship. Doesn’t that sound familiar to a device that was just introduced last spring?
The Apple iPad is the flagship of a whole new line of computer products called tablet computers. Now I’m not suggesting that the main inspiration for the development of this device is a late 80’s television show. What I do suggest though is that ground-breaking technology developments need a start somewhere. Our imagination gives us the road-map to develop these things. I certainly see some interesting similarities between the real and imagined devices.
What is your imagination leading you to discover or develop today?
- Five Ways to Teach Science With Star Trek (wired.com)
- Less Fiction, More Science – Too Bad (physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com)
- The power of imagination (elleonthego.wordpress.com)