Saturday, July 7, 2012

Love and buts

As a scientist, I understand uncertainty. It is no surprise to me that the CERN scientists, who are undoubtedly more excited than 10,000 teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert, are holding back and qualifying their announcement on the probable discovery of the Higgs Boson (popularly referred to as the God Particle).  After all, the history of science is rich with examples of stunning and sometimes embarrassing error.  The geocentric universe.  The plum pudding model of the atom.  Cold fusion. 

One needs to be cautious.

As a human being, I understand shades of gray.  Things are almost never black and white. As a university administrator, I have developed a maxim that for every problem, there are n+1 sides to the story, where n is the number of people involved.  Being able to see and understand multiple points of view is a valuable skill, in fact,  F. Scott Fitzgerald, once said "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

So I understand both uncertainty and ambiguity.  A healthy appreciation of both is crucial to learning and thinking.  If one is always sure and things are always clear, there is not much to think about, is there?  If one is always sure and things are always clear there is no incentive to probe deeper into the dark and tangled realms where real understanding lies.  

Yet, I think there are a few phrases that should never be qualified.  For instance, the phrase "I love you" should never be followed with the word "but."  Likewise, the phrase "I am sorry.  I was wrong"  should stand alone.  There are no "buts" in love or apology.  

Just my humble opinion.

Today I celebrate the feats of human intelligence and imagination.  Congratulations to the thousands of people who worked on the search for the Higgs.  I hope it stands up to further scrutiny.  

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