Another of the wise men whose voice appears in these pages, the physicist Richard Feynman, once remarked that many fields have a tendency for pomposity, to make things seem deep and pro found. It’s as if the less we know, the more we try to dress things up with complicated-sounding terms. We do this in countless fields, from sociology to philosophy to history to economics – and it’s definitely the case in business. I suspect that the dreariness in so much business writing often stems from wanting to sound as though we have all the answers, and from a corresponding unwillingness to recognize the limits of what we know. Regarding a particularly self important philosopher, Feynman observed:
It isn’t the philosophy that gets me, it’s the pomposity. If they’d just laugh at themselves! If they’d just say, “I think it’s like this, but von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he has a good shot at it, too”.
Richard Feynman: “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird…So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
Legendary physicist Richard Feynman encapsulated this way that scientists communicate uncertainty and how they strive to avoid the extremes of rights and wrong when he said, “Statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known to different degrees of certainty… Every one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth.” (This appears in a collection of his short works, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.)