Facts and Truth

Me as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
This past weekend I did something I have been dreaming about for more than 30 years. I portrayed the lead role in the classic musical Man of LaMancha. It was a wonderful experience. The cast was incredibly talented, and the production was both unique and beautiful. All the performances were sold out, and the audiences truly enjoyed the experience. I cannot express how thankful I am to The Alley Theatre for its support and its love of the arts.

As any serious art should do, the musical tackles a big question: How should we approach the world in which we live? On one side, there is the character Dr. Sanson Carassco, who says that we must face the world as it is. On the other side, there is Don Quixote, who says we should face the world as it ought to be. For example, Don Quixote meets a prostitute named Aldonza. However, he sees and treats her as a virtuous lady he calls “Dulcinea.”

In his insightful program notes, our director said this:

The simple, deconstructed storyline of LAMANCHA can be imagined as DON QUIXOTE standing at one end of a line. He is the dreamer and the crusader for change. On the other end of the line is DR. CARASSCO, the representative of “things as they are.” Walking from one to the other, in journey we should all take, is ALDONZA. She begins as “who she is” and ends as “who she should be and could be.”

While these notes give you the “big picture” about the show’s message, I want to discuss a side issue that centers around one of my favorite lines. When I first started rehearsing, I said the line one way, but our ever-patient director encouraged me to re-examine how Don Quixote would actually say it, and I ended up changing the delivery significantly.

At one point in the show, Dr. Sanson Carassco confronts Don Quixote with what he thinks is the truth. There are no giants, no kings who lie under enchantment, no chivalry, and no knights. There have been no knights for a long time. Don Quixote says that Dr. Carassco is learned, but misinformed. Dr. Carassco then informs Don Quixote that he is stating FACTS. Don Quixote replies:

Facts are the enemy of truth.

Now you might think that’s an odd thing for a person to say, especially when that person is a scientist in real life. Indeed, in his program notes, the director also wrote:

And I have to say the irony is not lost on me that Dr. Jay Wile, a scientist who lives and breathes FACTS, is the most passionate about telling this story of DON QUIXOTE.

I don’t find this ironic at all, because as a scientist, I have seen how “THE FACTS” often work against the truth. Consider, for example, the case of Dr. Dan Shechtman. He discovered a type of crystal that “THE FACTS” said couldn’t exist. He suffered a lot of ridicule from those who were advocating for “THE FACTS,” but in the end, Dr. Shechtman turned out to be the one advocating for truth. The history of science is filled with people who claimed that “THE FACTS” were on their side, but eventually, their side was shown to be the enemy of truth.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, people don’t understand that when it comes to science, “THE FACTS” often change. As a result, they passionately advocate for “THE FACTS,” often by trying to silence those who argue against them. What these people fail to realize is that in science, “THE FACTS” can be the enemy of truth. I guarantee you that some of “THE FACTS” of science that we believe today will be shown to be wrong in a few generations.

A good scientist understands that “THE FACTS” of science are often quite tentative, and those who are unwilling to question “THE FACTS” might one day find that they are the enemies of truth!

4 thoughts on “Facts and Truth”

  1. I am continually impressed by the similarities of the problems you have discovered in science to the problems I have discovered in the theological field. You are not alone in advocating for “THE TRUTH”.

  2. I now have a new seemingly contradictory rule to add to my list:

    1. Bias is the enemy of logic
    2. Consensus is the enemy of science
    3. Facts are the enemy of truth

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