Question: What is the role of imagination in science?
Michio Kaku: I believe that science is the engine of prosperity. Everything we see around us, the goods and services, the iPods, the internet, the GPS system, all of it comes from science. But what is the rocket fuel? What is the rocket fuel that makes science work? That makes this engine propel itself? And I think that rocket fuel is curiosity. It’s imagination. It’s the innovative spirit. That’s what keeps science alive. And I would hope that we could nourish that among our young people. But unfortunately, oftentimes, that rocket fuel is wasted.
If you take a look at our educational system, you’ll realize that all of us are born scientists. All of us are born wondering why does the sun shine? Where did I come from? What’s out there? How big is the world anyway? All of us are born scientists until we hit the danger years. When we hit about 13, 14, 15, those are the danger years and we start to lose these young scientists left and right. So, by the time they graduate from high school, we have only a tiny, tiny fraction of the original 100% of young people who are born scientists. They drop like flies. What’s wrong?
Well, many things are wrong. But among that is the way that we teach science. We teach science as a list of facts and figures to memorize and we crush, literally crush, any curiosity and spirit of innovation and imagination from young children. For example, my daughter once took the New York State Regional Exam. She took the exam in geology, and I had a chance to tutor her by looking at this manual. And I realized that the entire manual consisted mainly of memorizing the names of crystals, the names of minerals, hundreds of them, and of course, all the things that you are going to forget the day after your exam. So, it’s not that our students are stupid, they can memorize these things. They are so smart. They’ve figured out that this material is totally useless. Our students are so smart they’ve figured out they’re never going to see these things ever again. They just have to memorize it once in their life, throw away their book, and they’re absolutely right. They will never, ever see these hundreds of minerals, crystals, again in their life.