Getting it wrong is right

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    David Boots

    Physicist Robert A. Milikan won the Nobel Prize in Physics but said ‘There is no likelihood that man will ever tap the power of the atom.’

    Ernest Rutherford known as the father of nuclear physics stated in 1933 that anyone who expected power to be made from atoms was talking ‘moonshine.’

    In the same year Albert Einstein stated there was not the slightest indication that nuclear energy would be obtainable from the atom.

    Or course they were completely wrong.

    But that didn’t stop Leo Szilard stepping up and proving them wrong the same year. Apparently he took umbrage at Rutherford’s statement that it couldn’t be done and then went and did it. He later sold the patent to the US government for $15,417

    Leo was a great atheist and even wrote his own ten commandments…

    1. Recognize the connections of things and laws of conduct of men, so that you may know what you are doing.
    2. Let your acts be directed toward a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end.
    3. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world; lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of creation.
    4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.
    5. Touch no dish, except that you are hungry.
    6. Do not covet what you cannot have.
    7. Do not lie without need.
    8. Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love.
    9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become.
    10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever you are called.

    Simon Paynton

    I think that not knowing the answers is the best place to be.


    Admitting you don’t have all the answers but striving to find them is a better place to be?

    Thanks for sharing David. It is amazing what we can discover by standing on the shoulders of giants.



    Most of these are humanists principles, though a few of them are a little odd (touching dishes, taking sabbaticals, do not destroy). They may be good advice but I don’ understand why these are major priorities compared that what is left out, like educating others, fighting discrimination cruelty against the marginalised, loose religion, encourage critical thinking, environmental protection. Still…it was an extremely progressive list for its time.

    There are still many prizes for scientific breakthroughs people say are impossible. Apparently they have driven scientists to many discoveries like navigational time pieces, nuclear research, gene mapping, artificial intelligence, medical advances etc. If there were more rewards out there rewarding those who do the impossible I think we would take giant leaps.


    Daniel W.

    Interesting list.  Not my ten top rules for living, but some are similar.  Mine would go something like (in no particular order) –

    1.  Be kind to other people and beings.  That includes being kind to myself.

    2.  Live a life of conscious gratitude.  The fact is, most people in most places and most times, have had it much much worse than I have.  By living a life of gratitude, and regularly expressing that to others, I am happier and don’t resent knowing that someone else has it “better”.

    3.  It’s probably wise to take some time for solitude on a regular basis.  That can include meditation.

    4.  Don’t be too quick to anger.  That other person might be crazy, or might have had a bad day, or a bad life, or I might have done something, unintended, to annoy them.  Being angry just raises my blood pressure and might get me into trouble.

    5.  I always thought I should not expect anyone to bail me out if things went bad.  Which is a good thing, they didn’t.  But that forced me to be resourceful, diligent, and to persevere, and work harder.  So don’t expect people to bail me out, but if someone is kind, express gratitude for that kindness.

    6.  Don’t let other people manipulate me.  I actually have let other people do that, many times,  but I try to learn from it.  There are too many people around who want something that they don’t have a right to expect.   Sometimes, wariness is necessary.

    7. Read, read, read, read.

    8.  Learn about and practice critical thinking.  Then review and relearn.  Then repeat.

    9.  Enjoy the senses, sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, sexuality, and their esthetic nuances.  Enjoy your neurochemicals and their stimuli – dopamine, serotonin, prolactin, oxytocin.  But know that taking breaks from these increases appreciation for them.

    10.  Don’t be greedy.  Never having enough, and always wanting more, leads to trouble, envy, resentment, unhealthy interactions with others.

    11. (Bonus).  Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn.  Don’t be afraid to give up treasured “truths” and concepts of self, when there is evidence that they are wrong or do not serve a useful purpose.   Make mistakes and be willing to learn from them.  Let the paradigm shift, and shift again.  Use the other “commandments” to learn new lessons, new ideas, new ways of thinking.

    As for Leo Szilard, I’m a mental “little person” compared to him.  And those others.  I’m grateful they lived and did what they did.



    Simon Paynton

    @danielw – sounds good.

    @regthefronkeyfarmer – “Admitting you don’t have all the answers but striving to find them is a better place to be?

    – that’s true.  Why is this?  Why do we always want to know things?  Why is it, “knowledge is a hit”?  Making sense of the world must be a survival skill.  It actually gives us pleasure to know things.

    Even religious people are forever puzzling over their religions, and the bits they can’t make sense of trouble them greatly I am sure.



    @danielw I like those.  I’m not very good with rules, so I haven’t compiled a list, but I do have personal projects.  I learned to not get irritated by anyone.  That took a few years, but I’m pretty good compared to how I used to be.

    My mum had a favorite mantra.  Never complain, never explain.  I’m working with this one at present.  It’s harder than I thought.  Not so much the complaining part, but the explaining bit is difficult.  Saying, “I cannot make Tuesday” without adding an explanation as to why I can’t, is quite a challenge.

    As always, Work in Progress here 🙂


    Simon Paynton

    All I know is, when I don’t know something my nose starts twitching.

    @strega – did your mum not explain why to never explain?  It doesn’t make much sense to me.  I understand “don’t make excuses” but sometimes an explanation is necessary.



    Of course, Simon, SOMETIMES an explanation is necessary.  However, most of the time it’s optional. Trying not to do stuff automatically is quite hard.  I’m getting there slowly. Try it out. Try not giving an explanation (unless you’re talking to a police officer, etc).


    Daniel W.

    @strega, that sounds like a good guideline to work on.  I used the word “guideline” because on reconsidering, “commandment” or “rule” is too firm.

    This is my most important commandment:  Always have a bottle of Tabasco on hand, for all meals.  Doesn’t matter – pizza, eggs, potatoes, bread – Tabasco makes life worth living.



    @strega, that sounds like a good guideline to work on. I used the word “guideline” because on reconsidering, “commandment” or “rule” is too firm. This is my most important commandment: Always have a bottle of Tabasco on hand, for all meals. Doesn’t matter – pizza, eggs, potatoes, bread – Tabasco makes life worth living.

    Not Tabasco. Bacon!



    All I know is, when I don’t know something my nose starts twitching.

    Haha, I don’t think I’ve ever felt my nose twitch! But I’ve seen it, and now I’m wondering if maybe there’s a muscle in UKers that’s close to an upper lip muscle? Must watch more Mr. Bean, now…

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