Valuing Solutions Over Problems, Explanations Over Mysteries

March 30, 2010

I recently visited a blog that mentioned me (not in the most favorable of lights), and the author had read an interview I'd done.

He wrote:

Something Radford said jumped out at me: “I am less interested in mysteries than explanations; mysteries are dime a dozen, and it is explanations that are valuable.”

He admits that mysteries are prevalent and oddly he concludes that mysteries are uninteresting because there are so many of them. Jeez! I’d say its quite interesting that mysteries are dime a dozen. Doesn’t he find it amazing that explanations are so rare? I’m all for explanations, but how much jaded cynicism does it take to lose one’s wonder and curiosity in the face of ineffable mystery?

I'm always happy to discuss my work and investigation, but this seemed like a very odd statement to challenge. I gamely replied:

I think you misunderstood my point… I did not conclude that mysteries were “uninteresting”—in fact I’ve spent a decade investigating just such mysteries. I merely meant that solutions to mysteries are more important.

As for the question,“Doesn’t he find it amazing that explanations are so rare?”:

No, I don’t find it amazing at all, I find it obvious. Unknown things are all around us: what caused a loved one’s cancer, why our car is making that odd noise, where Osama bin Laden is, what will happen in Iraq and Iran, and so on. You could almost say that mysteries are the default state of being for humans, we will never know as much as we could know—that’s why science is ongoing. Creating a mystery takes little or no effort; if I tell someone I saw a strange light in the night sky, I have automatically created a mystery.

Solving mysteries and understanding the world around us takes time and effort and investigation. Therefore, solutions to mysteries and problems will always be more important and more valuable, for the same reason that knowledge is more valuable than ignorance.