When to Revise Assumptions
by Cynthia">Cynthia Sue Larson
September 4, 2000


Niels Bohr was one of the 20th century's most respected physicists -- not someone we would generally expect to make such a off-beat assertion, let alone hang a horseshoe over his door for good luck.

We generally expect our scientists to be free of extraneous assumptions, so that they pursue their quest for truth more effectively. In actuality, scientists are people too, and have just as many quirky beliefs and assumptions as the rest of us. As physics professor Richard Feynman once said:

Why is it that we so rarely examine the assumptions underlying the way we interpret the universe and ourselves within it? Perhaps because our assumptions are almost invisible to us, much like the foundations we build our houses upon. Like building foundations, assumptions support our way of interpreting everything we sense and experience, so it takes great courage to examine them closely lest we find them faulty.

I feel encouraged to know that we can learn much more when we have the courage to question our assumptions. In fact, there are some who believe we learn the most when we scrutinize our beliefs all the way down to our assumptions. I love what composer Igor Stravinsky had to say about this:

This fills me with great hope.

I am hopeful that no matter how misguided my assumptions may turn out to be, I will have the courage to see them clearly and know when it's time to make a change.

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