Friday, November 5, 2021

Quote of the Day (Sir Herbert Butterfield, on a Blackboard Problem-Solver)

“Nothing is more effective, after people have long been debating and wrangling and churning the air, than the appearance of a person who draws a line on the blackboard, which with the help of a little geometry solves the whole problem in an instant.”—English historian and philosopher of modern history Sir Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979), The Origins of Modern Science, 1300–1800 (1957)

Professor Butterfield could not imagine at the blackboard Dr. Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory (pictured here). Like, for instance, that fictional theoretical physicist’s baffled reaction to neighbor Penny’s crying jag when she can’t understand his “basic” explanation of his field of science. (“That's no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and it makes me sad.”) Like how Sheldon’s condescension makes even best friends (and fellow nerd-geniuses) Raj, Howard and Leonard sometimes want to kill him. And like how everyone else he meets can only gape at his utter lack of social skills.

All of this radically lowers the possibility that Sheldon can even get to a blackboard without being murdered, let alone that he can scrawl those equations that, in Butterfield’s optimistic vision, can simplify previously complex phenomena.

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