Found History

by Tom Scheinfeldt

Newton v. Einstein

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Mike Ellis at Electronic Museum posted a terrific entry this weekend entitled Newton vs Einstein, providing some welcome physical grounding for CHNM’s longstanding motto, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Drawing inspiration from a recent BBC Radio 4 program on Newton’s three laws of motion and their displacement by Einstein’s theories of relativity, Mike writes:

Einstein’s brilliance – his “rightness” – matters a huge amount when we’re nearing the speed of light. But down here as we plod about our normal daily lives, we can cope with the innacuracies. Relativity matters not a jot; actions do have an equal and opposite reaction; gravity acts downwards and relativity is merely a philosophy … [The point] is this: just as we accept Newton over Einstein even though we know he is essentially “wrong,” if we (and by this I mean me, museums or anyone with ideas) want to shine, we too need to accept imperfection. In fact, I believe we need to learn to actively embrace it.

A slightly mangled translation of Voltaire‘s “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” “the perfect is the enemy of the good” has long summed up CHNM’s philosophy that it is better to do something well than nothing flawlessly. Other oft repeated phrases among CHNM staff include “release early and often” and “get over yourself.” They all boil down to this: Digital history is easily as much about doing as it is about thinking, and doing means getting dirty, making mistakes, and breaking proverbial eggs.

Omelets anyone?

2 Comments

  1. I’ve also heard this philosophy called worse is better.

  2. Thanks, Ryan. I love it.

    –Tom

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