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“My four things I care about are truth, meaning, fitness and grace. [...] Sam [Harris] would like to make an argument that the better and more rational our thinking is, the more it can do everything that religion once did. [...] I think about my personal physics hero, Dirac – who was the guy who came up with the equation for the electron, less well-known than the Einstein equations but arguably even more beautiful...in order to predict that, he needed a positively-charged and a negatively-charged particle, and the only two known at the time were the electron and the proton to make up, let's say, a hydrogen atom. Well, the proton is quite a bit heavier than the electron and so he told the story that wasn't really true, where the proton was the anti-particle of the electron, and Heisenberg pointed out that that couldn't be because the masses are too far off and they have to be equal. Well, a short time later, the anti-electron -- the positron, that is -- was found, I guess by Anderson at Caltech in the early 30s and then an anti-proton was created some time later. So it turned out that the story had more meaning than the exact version of the story...so the story was sort of more true than the version of the story that was originally told. And I could tell you a similar story with Einstein, I could tell it to you with Darwin, who, you know, didn't fully understand the implications of his theory, as is evidenced by his screwing up a particular kind of orchid in his later work...not understanding that his theory completely explained that orchid! So there's all sorts of ways in which we get the...the truth wrong the first several times we try it, but the meaning of the story that we tell somehow remains intact.

And I think that that's a very difficult lesson for people who just want to say, 'Look, I want to'...you know, Feynman would say, "If an experiment disagrees with you, then you're wrong' and it's a very appealing story to tell to people – but it's also worth noting that Feynman never got a physical law of nature and it may be that he was too wedded to this kind of rude judgment of the unforgiving.

Imagine you were innovating in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The first few times might not actually work. But if you told yourself the story, 'No, no, no – this is actually genius and it's working; no, you just lost three consecutive bouts' -- well, that may give you the ability to eventually perfect the move, perfect the technique, even though you were lying to yourself during the period in which it was being set up. It's a little bit like the difference between scaffolding and a building. And too often, people who are crazy about truth reject scaffolding, which is an intermediate stage in getting to the final truth.”


Eric R. Weinstein
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