Friday, March 19, 2010

On the importance of knowing stuff

I was reading an old Joel on Software article on software, for the day job, and saw this peach of a quote.

People who only know one world get really smarmy, and every time they hear about the complications in the other world, it makes them think that their world doesn't have complications. But they do. You've just moved beyond them because you are proficient in them. These worlds are just too big and complicated to compare any more. Lord Palmerston: "The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it."
That's similar to the tale of Arthur Eddington.
[Eddington] was an early apologist of Einstein's General Relativity, and an interesting anecdote well illustrates his personal intellectual investment: Ludwig Silberstein approached Eddington at the Royal Society's (November 6) 1919 meeting wherein he had defended Einstein's Relativity with his Brazil-Principe Solar Eclipse calculations with some degree of skepticality and ruefully charged Arthur as one who claimed to be one of three men who actually understood the theory. When Eddington refrained from replying, he insisted Arthur not be "so shy", whereupon Eddington replied, "Oh, no! I was wondering who the third one might be!"
That's all for today.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

And the anecdote about Eddington was nicely repeated by one David Tennant in an interview on Front Row, BBC Radio 4 when interviewed about playing Eddington in the BBC drama 'Einstein and Eddington'.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it said of George W, that he knows what he knows and knows what he doesn't know. My initial reaction was that obviously there was a great deal of the latter and not much of the former, but what do I know. I'm not sure I know what I think I know, never mind what I know i don't know.