The Opposite of a Profound Truth
January 16, 2007
While browsing my friend Sarah’s website, I ran across a wonderful quotation from Niels Bohr (quantum physicist) that reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with my good friend Mowgli; I’ll get to Bohr’s statement in a moment. In the conversation with Mowgli, I quoted a line from an e.e. cummings poem:
I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance
This strikes me as a profound truth, oft repeated in cummings work; the sense being something along the lines of how beauty and truth are best unanalyzed, and how “progress,” “knowledge,” and science can destroy truth. Mowgli expressed distaste for the quote, saying that knowledge, science, and understanding the universe are very important and worthwhile things to him. I also agreed with that. I didn’t see the cummings quote and his opinion as contradictory, but I couldn’t explain why.
The Bohr quote recalled this conversation to my mind. I think Bohr’s statement itself expresses a profound truth, as well as reconciling the apparent disagreement in Mowgli and my philosophies:
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
Bohr echoes another cummings idea, from the forward to cumming’s book is 5:
Ineluctable preoccupation with The Verb gives a poet one priceless advantage:whereas nonmakers must content themselves with the merely undeniable fact that two times two is four,he rejoices in a purely irresistible truth (to be found,in abbreviated costume,upon the title page of the present volume).
It is the soulless scientist who contents himself with merely undeniable facts. Bohr’s quote shows that he and his ilk are after purely irresistible truths.
May we all be fortunate enough to spend our lives as makers and poets.