Friday, March 2, 2012

Meeting a Great Man

Every once in a while, you meet a truly great person.  Today was one of those days for me.  This afternoon, I spent two hours talking with chemist Roald Hoffmann, but Hoffmann is interesting not merely because he won a Nobel Prize in 1981.  He is also intensely interested in the intersection between art and science, as well as in aesthetics and ethics.  I've downloaded several of his essays, and find them all deep and fascinating.  Hoffmann is also in favor of clear writing in professional journal articles, though he told me that not all editors feel the same way, an opinion I find bizarre.  What is the point of writing anything if it's not as understandable as possible?  Don't professional chemists want to read clear writing?

Here's a great quote from the Nobel Prize website that shows Hoffmann's dedication to both language and science:

"The language of science is a language under stress.  Words are being made to describe things that seem indescribable in words -- equations, chemical structures and so forth.  Words do not, cannot mean all that they stand for, yet they are all we have to describe experience.  By being a natural language under tension, the language of science is inherently poetic.  There is metaphor aplenty in science.  Emotions emerge shaped as states of matter and more interestingly, matter acts out what goes on in the soul."

[Above Photo from Gary Hodges]

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