Great post! In German the quote is: “Phantasie ist wichtiger als Wissen, denn Wissen ist begrenzt.“ German “Phantasie” is different from English fantasy but also from imagination, though both fantasy and imagination are valid translations. But the connotations are different.
I agree with drakodoc – “creativity” is more apt. Probably the meaning has changed in the last 100 years. It is interesting that the quote in German (as it is used typically) is also wrong in a sense as the first clause of the next sentence “for knowledge is limited / Wissen ist begrenzt” is usually connected to the statement about imagination as if this were a single sentence.
DAVID BODANIS: At this time, not a lot was known about the atom. At first people thought it was like a miniature cellular system, there's a solid nucleus of the center and electrons would spin around it, sort of like planets around our sun. A little later, some researchers proposed that the nucleus itself wasn't a solid chunk but was made up of separate particles, of protons and neutrons. But then, in what are called radioactive metals, things like radium and uranium, the nucleus itself seemed to be unstable, leaking out energy and particles. Perhaps this was an example of E = mc2, the mass of a nucleus turning into energy?
This is definitely a quote that applied to his work as a physicist, but which can also be used in any area that requires understanding. If you are a master of something then you shouldn’t have trouble putting it into simple terms for others to understand. Stephen Hawking is a great example of someone that can take giant concepts and put them in terms that anyone can grasp. It’s also a way to figure out if you yourself know enough about a subject, or if you need to go back and study up. If you’ve had trouble lately explaining something that you thought you knew quite well, it may be a sign that more learning is required.