The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Right or Truth

From 2016 to 2022 Thomas Zurbuchen was the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. Listening to a long podcast inviting him to share a variety of details about himself, his life, and his career, I found myself impressed by his clarity.

I’ve heard many clients telling me that they see themselves clearly or aim for clear communication. However, our work most often was there to help them gain clarity. Towards themselves as well as others. It’s work that comes to them as a surprise.

Whenever it appears, one’s lack of clarity is surprising. That is, whenever one perceives oneself as having been sufficiently involved to know. Things are very different once one has given oneself the space to not know.

His ability to share when or what he didn’t know was one of the reasons Dr. Z, as he used to be called at NASA, seemed to be so clear to me.

I understood another reason when he described a conversation with his father where they looked at the relationship between science books and the bible, concluding that they belong on different “shelves”.

The way one deals with scientific theories is by searching for ways to disprove the theories. One may assume that a theory is right as long as no one proves it to be wrong. But one will not assume that it is true. The more people seek to prove it wrong and failed doing so, the more the theory will be trusted. It doesn’t make it the truth, but brings it closer to being right.

Beliefs are different. They are neither doubted nor questioned by the person believing in whatever it is they believe in. Whatever happens, can be used to validate what it is they believe in. If history supports it, they will appreciate it. But if history differs, history loses its relevance.

What I took away from this relationship is the difference between trusting in something and believing in something. In both cases, it is accepted that one doesn’t know what the truth is. But when dealing with reality, Dr. Z seems to use the theories he trusts in. In other circumstances, belief might step in. Beyond trust and belief as approaches to living one’s life and relationship with one’s environment, theories that have not yet been sufficiently linked with reality serve as a means to explore possibilities.

One can say, that trusting one’s truth and believing in one’s truth acknowledges that one doesn’t know. It creates a space to explore and learn without making oneself dependent on knowing the truth. Knowing that one might be wrong isn’t threatening anymore.

Then uncertainty isn’t frightening and replaced with curiosity.

Clarity becomes a way to let go of uncertainty while embracing not knowing.


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