Imagination Conversation Report: Big Thought, Texas

Here’s another in our series of posts about Imagination Conversations. There are certain organizations around the U.S. that are, like Lincoln Center Institute, committed to imagination in education. Big Thought, located in Dallas, Texas, is a leader among them. (Read about its accomplishments here.) I was therefore honored to deliver the keynote address at the event I discuss below. I witnessed understanding of the Conversations’ mission there, as well as Big Thought’s leadership role in what is already happening in their area and across the country.

The Texas Imagination Conversation, hosted by Big Thought, happened on October 14 at the brand-new AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. Dick Deasy, former director of the Arts Education Partnership, moderated a discussion between such impressive panelists as: Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills; Dr. Jeffrey Davis, director of the NASA Space Life Sciences Directorate at the Johnson Space Center; Delores Etter, director of Southern Methodist University’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education; and Ygnacio Garza, member of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, San Antonio Branch. Volunteer journalists documented subsequent “breakout sessions,” in which attendees talked about issues the panel raised and offered their own expertise as they assessed the state of imagination in Texas. Students got to watch a simulcast of the panel discussion and participate in their own breakout sessions.

Gigi Antoni, the impressive president and CEO of Big Thought, a Dallas nonprofit organization whose mission is “to make imagination a part of everyday learning,” says about Texas: “In a state with many voices, backgrounds, industries, and perspectives, a culture of imagination will be the linchpin in ensuring a unified start to the 21st century.” She goes on to call imagination “a bridge builder” that “marries thought to action, combines fields of work, and connects people and lives.” Returning her focus to Texas, Antoni notes, “If our citizens have a place to stretch their thoughts and float their ideas, we can face any challenge to come in the years ahead.”

More Imagination Conversation Reports will appear soon!

Click here to view all Imagination Conversation Reports.

The Role of Imagination in Magic

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By Eric Walton

Eric Walton in Esoterica

This is the second in our ongoing series of Guest Blogger entries.

It is no secret that magic is an art-form based largely upon secrets—secret moves, secret apparatus, secret intentions. If the presentation of magic is to be successful, the magician must know something that the spectator does not and he must keep that something a secret for as long as he can.

But a secret isn’t the same as a lie.

A lie is the deliberate misrepresentation of the truth, perpetrated in order to gain some advantage, generally a malicious one. A lie is always told with the intent to deceive, whereas a secret is merely the concealment of the truth or some aspect of it and may or may not involve the will to mislead. I may have a secret tattoo of Genghis Khan on the sole of my foot, but you are unlikely to consider yourself deceived if I fail to disclose the fact when we first meet.

And while we magicians must sometimes resort to overt lying in order to present our tricks successfully, most of the deception on which we rely is not in the form of lies that we tell our audiences, but in the fabrications and confabulations that take place within the minds of the spectators themselves. The magician orchestrates a series of “experiential voids” which audience members consciously and unconsciously fill with their own expectations, assumptions and interpretations. Thus, audience members are not so much the victims of the magician’s deception, as they are both witting and unwitting accomplices in it. Continue reading

What We Learn from Animals: How to Play

Image by Steve Jurvetson*

In a January 21 Huffington Post entry, Brenda Peters writes of important lessons gleaned from the animal world: play in order to thrive.

Peters, who has studied wild dolphins, writes that in play, dolphins learn essential survival and relationship skills. Rats apparently laugh more readily than humans (see the video). In some species, the absence of play could signify that an individual is in psychological distress (see this brief article about chimpanzees from the Jane Goodall Institute). Scientists theorize that individuals who play the most are most instrumental in advancing the evolution of their species (read more in the preface to this book). And in play, both animals and humans let down their guard and take risks—opening themselves up to grow and love and learn, and sometimes opening themselves to real physical danger or loss.

“Play doesn’t end in childhood or in the animal kingdom,” writes Peters. “Play is also about developing a lifelong imagination that is flexible and responsive to one’s environment. True play calls forth from us, animals and humans alike, the highest creativity and inventiveness.” For Peters, to be visionary requires a sense of infinite possibility that may be nurtured in play. Check out her full post here.

Click here to watch a video presentation by Stuart L. Brown, author of National Geographic’s “Animals at Play.”

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

Give Them Room to “Just Do the Thing”


High school history teacher Diana Laufenberg has witnessed some amazing learning—and learned to step back and allow her students to fail along the way.

In this brief TED Talks video, Laufenberg discusses how profound changes in the information landscape have altered education, opening up opportunities for experiential, student-centered learning focused on exploration and creativity. During her father’s childhood, she explains, kids went to school to gain information; school was where the information was. When she was a kid, her parents bought a set of encyclopedias and, as the locus of information shifted to include her home, education shifted as well. Students in the public high school where Laufenberg now teaches each have a laptop that is fully connected and portable. If information is everywhere, what is school for? Laufenberg argues for learning as a creative process involving failure, processing failure, learning from failure, and trying again. School is no longer about accessing information—kids can do that anywhere; school can now be about playing with information. Want to hear more about the kinds of activities that have opened up these types of learning experiences for Laufenberg’s students? Click here for the full 10-minute video.