This I Believe

Robert - Scotts Valley, California
Entered on December 18, 2006
Age Group: 65+

I believe in the complexity and ambiguity of knowing. I believe that to live requires clarity in a world full of murky truth.

In physics there is a principle called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which states that pairs of complementary variables are related, that if you know one of the variables well then you can know little about the other. For example, if you know how fast a particle is traveling you can not tell where it is. If, on the other hand, you know precisely where it is, you can not tell how fast it is going. This is a fundamental principle upon which all modern physics rests.

I had a physics professor with a philosophical bent who made the observation that in this life, truth and clarity are complementary variables. If you are perfectly clear about something, then there is little truth in it, and, likewise, if you know all truth about a subject then clarity disappears.

This can be easily observed. An old professor, devoting his or her life to the study of a niche of knowledge, has learned so much and found so many dependencies that clear discourse is impossible. To learn the complexities of this niche takes years and much study. Everything is interrelated so that there are no simple explanations.

Another example of the complementarity of truth and clarity can be seen in political campaigns. A political campaign is won on sound bytes, which, in order to be effective, must be short and extremely clear. In other words, have little truth in them. When, in the fullness of time, the campaign is won and a law is written, the law is written in truth, not clarity, and turns into a thousand page spending bill with no clarity what-so-ever.

I have discovered that we live life largely in clarity. Truth is much too cumbersome for most situations. When speaking to children we speak with clarity and understand that there will be a lot of explaining to do in the future. As an engineer, I design with a lot of clarity and a little truth and a large margin for error. In church I realize that God is speaking to me in clarity and leaving me to find the truth. For me, God only points directions.

But in my relationship with my wife there is truth because of all of the years and all the understanding. It is difficult to explain this relationship to the uninitiated.

This fundamental belief has made sense of many things in life for me. I can listen to political speech, I can talk to God and children. I luxuriate in the complexities of life with my spouse. I have become much more patient.

And the truth of a beautiful sunset, with the knowledge of things past, of the present, of the future, of the connectedness of life and the knowledge of the workings of this universe, is utterly sublime.