MOST OF US are fairly shrewd judging the work of others, and can see where the blooming idiot went wrong.
But our own work is rather like the bicycle which runs smoothest if you don't think, too much, exactly how to pedal it. Too much brooding and you're into a post.
And yet we probably should examine ourselves and our work more than we do. As the august Kennedy Center has just finished paying a fellow to study the Center to see how its outreach is going.
Fine, said the three-year study. Your outreach is just fine.
It is wonderful that so often if you hire a study of your operation the verdict is favorable.
But there could always be a snag. What if you hired some hardnose trouble-maker who took $50,000 for incidental expenses and then said you were doing a lousy job?
And yet as the Chinese have shown us, we really must examine ourselves more closely to see if we're approaching the excellence, zub, zub, that the world has a right to expect zub, zub, zub.
I am on the verge, therefore, of commissioning myself to study my own "work," and I pray the result of this study will be encouraging, and $50,000 ought to do it.
But as you know nothing is simple once you really think about it. We ourselves can be subversive, and how can we be sure, if we pay ourselves to review ourselves, we may not conclude that an inadequate job is being done?
Well. All we need is a bit of courage.
The Kennedy Center found that courage and so can we.
If it's any help -- as you consider commissioning yourself to study your own work -- I found a lot of comfort recently at the Einstein Seminar at the Institute for Advanced Study, where the noted theoretician John Wheeler was saying that a central concept for understanding the universe is this.
"Zero equals zero."
As it happens, I have no great trouble with that concept, having seen it illustrated often enough in the work of others. And if it is really true, as Wheeler suspects it is, then why should we be afraid of anything? Least of all ourselves?
It is one thing, and a fearful thing, to be not good enough if the world is proceeding upward and onward at a great rate. One would feel bad to drag the level down.
But if it started in nothing and will end in nothing, then it should not make a great deal of difference ultimately if we fall slightly short of, say, Shakespeare. Or name your own poison.
Physics, it now seems likely to me at least, recapitulates poetry. Poets have always observed how things that seem substantial come from airy nothing and, at the last, leave not a wrack behind.
So it is all to the good if physics is catching up.
Some physicists believe that at first there was nothing and from it came energy and from energy came mass and from mass came all sorts of other things including dandy persons working hard for a living. And then, they suspect, the earth will fall into the sun and one thing will lead to another and what was once the universe will be nothing, once again.
Whether or not this is true picture, it at least gave me courage to commission myself to study my work. especially since I rather need $50,000 in incidental expense money.
But there is a snag, all the same. What if, among the zeroes of the universe being born and being dead, something occurs that is not altogether zero?
I have no great trouble with the grand outline of universes springing from nothing and returning thither. After all, man that is born of woman hath but a few days upon the earth, and I like the idea the universe follows the same program. Stars recapitulate babies.
But in the grand simplicity of this concept of physics there are a few distrubing complications as far as I am concerned.
Just yesterday I read in the paper about the pigs.
If you read it too, you know that Bermuda is occupied by pigs that swam ashore from shipwrecks.
Another thing I read just yesterday in the paper was that there are an infinity of ways to swat a tennis ball with your racket.
Now the universe coming from nothing and returning to nothing gives me far less trouble than the concept of the poor pigs squealing like mad in a sinking ship.
"PADDLE," one feels like hollering. And sure enough, they panic at the deep but nevertheless swim as well as they can. And some of them sight that island of palm trees and drag their poor soggy snouts ashore where (in a most beautiful happy ending) they find a country of golden swill spread out before them.
And who can pass those courts occupied by tennis persons without a sense of awe?
Yonder is some pimpled adolescent patiently learning the 4,793rd way to swat a ball. You feel sorry for him, knowing the infinity of ways to hit it, and wondering if he comprehends the size of the task before him.
But there he is, swatting with might and main and some of the strokes work well enough to produce a game.
Now all of this is going on in a universe that may really be illustrating the concept that zero equals zero.
Well. There appears to be space and time, in among the zeroes, for some fairly splendid things. If the universe returns to nothing, no doubt it will carry along with it some splendid baggage of swimming pigs and swatting kids, who have occupied the intervals.
And if old Nothingness sees what remarkable creatures and projects have sprung from her, she may start up the whole process once again.
I do believe the swimming pigs, hell-bent for Bermuda, give great meaning to the world.
So that something otherwise meaningless and not even especially interesting -- the birth and collapse of stars -- turns into something not only interesting but urgent.
But of course, once I have spend the $200,000 (costs tend to exceed original estimates) seeing whether my stuff is any good or not, I will know more.