Some say that imagination is more important than knowledge; to a certain extent, that may be true because imagination leads to new discoveries, inventions, and revelations. But knowledge is often the basis for such discoveries; that which has been passed down by others who’ve researched, discovered, identified and recorded are the foundational stones upon which things are often built, whether in science, technology, or life in general.
In this day and age, however, sometimes imagination overtakes knowledge (or simply ignores it). An informed mind is a powerful tool; an uninformed mind can be a dangerous weapon. This is true whether writing non-fiction, fiction, or passing on something on social media. We should beware of the half truths – we may have gotten hold of the wrong half.
It’s now more important than ever to test the veracity of reports and even images; anyone can make an ass out of an angel, so to speak, with photoshop, et al. How much misinformation is spread by simple carelessness or wilful misdirection (that includes, unfortunately, mainstream news media)? Or by assuming that since something is from a trusted friend it must be true? How often have you gotten upset by an article you’ve seen and commented on it, or passed it on, allowing it to form an opinion in your subconscious at the very least, and in your active thoughts at worst, only to find out later that it was a false report, a hoax, or sloppy journalism?
As you probably know, I love to learn; I have a steel trap of a mind for little bits of trivia, like the fact that certain microbes concentrate and disperse (read “poop”) gold, or that all living creatures, including you and I, emit visible light (probably a byproduct of biochemical reactions). As a writer of fiction that comes in handy; I can extrapolate knowledge and use it as a plot detail or a character quirk; but when I’m writing a blog, e.g. about a historical detail, I want to make sure I get it right. A case in point was an article I wrote in 2014 about post-mortem photography in the Victorian period; it was by far the most popular post to date on that blog and continues to generate interest. In particular, two points from the article were addressed, researched, and edited/corrected either in the article itself or in the comments and discussion that ensued. Mistakes happen, but when I catch them, I will do my best to correct them!
For writers, it is important to cross-reference anything you find online, especially if you’re basing something significant on it such as character development, location, or plot. Assumptions can also get you into trouble; I know that Geneva is part of Switzerland, but in writing 18th-century fiction, I need to be aware of the fact that it was merely an ally of the Swiss Confederacy from the 16th century, but only became part of Switzerland in 1814. Any reference I have to it in my trilogy needs to reflect that fact.
I recently read a collection of short stories on Kindle, and on nearly every single Kindle page there were mistakes (that adds up to a lot of mistakes per manuscript page!): Missing words that the authors assumed were there, typos, commas 2 or 3 words off-position, stray quotation marks, and countless words they assumed were the correct ones but obviously were not (e.g. catwalk instead of rampart for a castle). This is where imagination overtook the writer, and knowledge gave way to ignorance… I have understanding for one or two such errors in a manuscript of that length, but none whatsoever for several per page; that simply smacks of laziness and poor-to-no editing, and it boils down to an unintentional slap in the face to any reader who’s taken the time to read their story.
Knowledge without imagination is like a rusted hinge; imagination is the oil that makes the knowledge come to life, and the writer is the door handle that opens the door to new worlds, new ideas, new discoveries, and inventions. It sounds noble, doesn’t it? But did you realize that many of the electronic gadgets we take for granted today were at one time birthed in the imaginations of men like Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek? It inspired countless children who went on to become astronauts, scientists, and engineers, who made those science-fiction inventions become reality and discovered distant worlds (now known as exoplanets). I’m waiting with bated breath for the transporter to replace airline security queues…
Those hinges are necessary, as is the oil, so that the door handle can do its job and get out of the way, allowing the world beyond to unfold.