Too Big for Our Britches

Although having newer Nissans (under warranty) means Michelle and I generally take our cars to the dealer for service, I have a mechanic friend, Paul, who I trust completely when it comes to what should or shouldn't be done with our vehicles. If Paul were ever to suggest something that didn't make sense to me, I might ask him to explain, but I would do so as a student asking a teacher—and I would accept there are some areas where my existing knowledge comes up so short Paul might not be able to put it in lay enough terms for me. Of course, given enough time to grasp the foundations, I actually could understand anything Paul does.

If Paul were instead a theoretical physicist, it would be even more likely he'd have to tell me, "Hmmm…Alan…I don't think there is a way I can explain it so you can understand." And although scientists like Stephen Hawking have written some tremendous books to translate what is in their heads into words that we (the masses) can digest, the reality is that most of us get dumbfounded as soon as we see an equation with an unrecognizable symbol in it.

But again, given enough time to grasp the foundations, I could understand anything Hawking does.

In both cases, however, I am not egotistical enough to tell the real mechanic Paul, or the hypothetical theoretical physicist Paul, they are wrong on their subject matter unless I am sure I have competence in the topic we are discussing. I won't tell real Paul how he should fix a 1995 Subaru Outback, and I won't tell hypothetical Paul string theory is only good for hanging pixie-dust evolution fairies. [Read more…]