Flights of fantasy and realms of reality

Imagination is more important than knowledge
– Albert Einstein

During a stint some time back, I casually asked a co-worker what he thought of “Charmed”, the television series. I had to explain the concept of magic and witches to him. In the end, he said he’d much rather watch or read fictional stories based on real life, like law or police work. I couldn’t get through to him about the joys of simply asking “What if?”.

“What if you could fly?”
“What if you could stop time?”
“What if you could move objects with your mind?”

What if.

I’m going to give 2 extremely broad generalisations. Here are my observations. Asians (or maybe just Chinese) in general, are less daring to try new things. The general advice is to be realistic, more down-to-earth. Once in a while, a small spark of innovation occurs, possibly out of sheer luck, and progress is made. This probably don’t match the Asia today.

The Western world seems more willing to reach for the sky, indeed, for outer space. Leaps of faith, jumps in industrial progress and quantum bounds in science and technology.

Like I said, those are very broad generalisations. I admit that I’m a little sheltered here in Singapore, so the situation east and west of my longitude may not be as what I perceive them to be. So here’s what I do know. The education system in my country consistently churns out good students, even outperforming American students.

The thing is, parents here are, shall we say, extremely concerned about their children’s education and future. I’m actually appalled at the activities a typical 8 year old goes through. Aside from school, there’s extra tuition and lessons for English, math, Chinese, science, ballet, swimming, music and even brain development courses (I think it’s Montesorri or something). Where’s the time for fun? I’m not sure what happens in your country, but that’s what’s happening here in Singapore.

Yet we don’t have Nobel prize winners. I read in another report (can’t find the reference) an observation. The Asian countries have, on average, better students. But the Western countries, particularly America, have on occasion, brilliant students. The really bad and the really good live near each other, like some cosmic balance act.

Where am I going with this? I believe the key is imagination. My countrymen may be better at math and science on average, but the Americans landed on the moon.

So, now, finally, bringing it back to something relevant. Programming is an act of creation, of imagination. Maintaining existing code requires you to imagine yourself in the shoes of the programmers who wrote that. Writing new code requires you to imagine how the finished program is going to look like.

If you keep sticking to what’s done before, then that’s what you’ll get. More of the same. But if you indulge in your flights of fantasy, of imagining the possibilities, of trying something else, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get something different, something awesome.

Are you ready to leave your realm of reality?