When scientists hate logic

Published in S. P. A. C. E.

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Niels Bohr, Danish physicist [1885-1962]
Niels Bohr, Danish physicist [1885-1962]
I KNEW THERE WAS SOMETHING special about Niels Bohr.

Being a nerd about small units of matter, about particles, about fuzzy logic, quantum math, and the general area of work in which people are asking giant questions on scales both very large and very small, it was only a matter of time before I’d investigate what the physicist thought about things.

Them personally, I mean.

There are some amazing scientists who have fascinating things to say about existentialism, being, and if you watched The Theory of Everything about Stephen Hawking in recent months (as I have), you will be on the same page with me about the wanting to inquire about brilliant scientists’ philosophical musings, too.

So when I found it, I said it.


This quote:

‘No, no,’ said Niels Bohr, the physicist who gave us the model of the atom. ‘You’re not thinking. You’re just being logical.’

Dissecting purpose

ON A 2007 VISIT TO DENMARK and the splendid city of Copenhagen I found the cemetery where you can wander about and happen upon this man’s grave. It’s pretty magnificent, in fairness, for a place of final rest. You can tell someone really loved him. But he also had things to say about poetry, poetry!, what about that has anything to do with science, the PhD kids from Raleigh-Durham would want to know. Asking questions about the why and how of things, the metaphysics and existentials, what the? ‘Why would you bother about that when you can dissect the genome, cut open a rat, or brew potions designed to numb the brain?’

‘Well, I say!’ I think, cornered.

Saying nothing.

(Nearly broke up with quite a few friends over the dogma of theirs, but being in the Research Triangle Park I was outnumbered. Then I left. Then through the natural drift that happens when people move to the opposite side of the globe, relationships with scientists and logicians largely fizzled, to my great relief.)

Had I had a comeback, it would have been a direct quote. Bohr, of course, again:

We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections. —Niels Bohr, physicist

There had to have been something to give them, though, but I just didn’t know what it was. Couldn’t possibly guess, because I was still too young, too fresh, too oblique and earnest and believing of the old idea. That, okay, I’ll go ahead and say it. That people want to hear about philosophy. That they want to be challenged to go outside the boxes. See what’s there. Possibility. Potential, et al. But, as it was clear when I got to talking with my dear friend Patti Rieser in recent days, that people just can’t cope with too much of too much. Is that what we said? It was a different time, a different time zone, but that was my take-home message.

What? They don’t want to ask,

‘Who am I? Where am I going? Will this have mattered, in the end, at the big giant finish line of life?’

Protest, from me.


The same kind of resistance to the things that familiar people had said when pressing me against the wall. Of reason. Of making sense of those giant things that of course had to have a rhythm, a pattern, an orderliness. It’s the stuff of Man and Superman, Bernard Shaw, the very essence of wanting to get to the bottom of it. Except… There isn’t a bottom, and if you found it, it’d be, well, it’d be… turtles! All the way down.

This is only the top shell. I’m sharing about Bohr today at our eZine, S. P. A. C. E., which publishes for members every Tuesday at 7AM USEST. I’ve been wanting to tell you more about that, in this blog, but have gotten a little distracted with making up ‘N’.

More about S. P. A. C. E., though, just below. —DK

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Published in S. P. A. C. E.

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