In Newton’s era, we were able to believe in a clock-like universe of immutable laws – he helped us safely feel like we could predict everything. In the early 1900s, Heisenberg pointed out that at the subatomic level we aren’t able to predict anything. Now, we have black holes and dark matter, where the laws of physics break down completely — a mysterious force that does not interact with matter, as everything we are familiar with does.
From generation to generation, we are always changing our truths. And finding new things that existed long before we became aware of them. Yet – we still have a tendency to talk as if we see everything there is to be seen, have every perspective in place, and can arrive at a “right” answer.
The story of two of the most brilliant physicists — Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr — is an interesting one. They were great friends. Einstein indicated that he had a kind of love for Bohr. They both had brains capable of seeing and processing things in new and amazing ways. They had tremendous respect for each other’s intellect, which I imagine was hard to find at that level.
And then… they contemplated together the nature of the universe. Einstein, of course, was the first to see that time is relative — it depends on context, the speed of the observer. Time is predictable, but not an absolute.
Bohr, in deep conversation with Einstein in 1927, tried to convince him to go even further — to agree that time and space are ambiguous concepts that can never be precisely measurable. He wanted to convince Einstein that the universe – time, space — is about ambiguity. But Einstein believed in precision – finding a formula that explains everything. So they argued and disagreed and eventually stared at each other as if they were aliens. Their philosophies about life separated them.
Years later, they were both at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. A colleague held a party, trying to get them to nudge closer together again. But each stood firmly entrenched on their side of the room, surrounded by their equally entrenched students. They had nothing left to say to each other. They never regained a relationship again.
All because of their need – two brilliant, logical men – to convince the other that his philosophy was wrong.
What if the need to be “right” is… irrelevant? Non-existent even? What if there are simply too many legitimate perspectives? What if we stopped disagreeing on what is “right” and spent that energy on a different type of storytelling?