The toolkit we use to understand the universe, in science and elsewhere.

Recently in the brilliant and beautiful book Flatterland, a sequel to Edwin A. Abbott’s iconic book Flatland about a 2D square that experiences the 3D universe from a god-like sphere, Ian Stewart introduced an acronym that beautifully sums up the process of doing physics and discovering essential things about our universe: IMAGER.

  • Imagination
  • Mathematics – or thinking in logic and patterns, if you’re not inclined towards numbers
  • Analogy – using a similar image to simplify an idea
  • Generalization – applying this idea to a broader scope to see if it still holds true
  • Extrapolation – thinking about the implications if the idea is true; making predictions
  • Recursion – coming up with new ideas, starting all over again

This, to me, is the essential toolkit to understand the universe.  I have a hunch that this  acronym was explicitly designed to facilitate physics and mathematical thinking, but join me in pondering how these tools expand to other forms of how we go about understanding the universe, like science, philosophy, art, and spirituality.


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