Friday, March 22, 2013

TING AND I, Relativity

From Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion

“Sharp knives make the meat more tender,” the waiters and waitresses at Kent’s Steak House in Atlantic City were exhorted by signs posted in the kitchen, in the latter part of the summer of 1961, when I worked there as a busboy to supplement the money I had made at Camp Merry Hill. Keep those steak knives sharp! If you had to fight to cut up your steak, you concluded it was tough rather than that the knife was dull.

Our conclusions about reality often depend on what tools we bring with us, physically and mentally, to evaluate it. We see the world “through a glass darkly” and this shapes our beliefs and thus our behavior. This should humble us and also make us skeptical of the seeming confidence of others, many of whom are frequently wrong, but rarely in doubt.

Our motives shape our perceptions and analyses, too. “Where you stand often depends on where you sit.” Different positions in life give different views, have different payoffs, different risks.

When solving a problem, it is best to have a wide range of “instruments” available, whether these be actual tools or mental models. “When you have only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” I tend to hoard “stuff,” thinking someday I’ll find a use for it. Occasionally, I do. Of course, one must be sure never to run out of duct tape.

Not only scientists, but all of us, need to test our perceptions and conclusions against outcomes. When interpreting the motives of others, we are confined to what they say and what they do. “Watch the feet” or “actions speak louder than words” we are wisely advised. Another maxim is “do not rely on the good words of someone who is seeking something from you.” If they love you, they are likely to be thinking more about giving to you than about getting from you.

Tina has proved to be as promised, and I hope I have.

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