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Why Buy That Theory?

Roald Hoffmann

'Tis a Gift

There is something else, even more fundamentally psychological, at work. Every society uses gifts, as altruistic offerings but more importantly as a way of mediating social interactions. In science the gift is both transparent and central. Pure science is as close to a gift economy as we have, as Jeffrey Kovac has argued. Every article in our open literature is a gift to all of us. Every analytical method, every instrument. It's desired that the gift be beautiful (simple gifts are, but also those that bring us a good story with them), to be sure. But that the offering be useful (portable, productive) endows it with special value. The giver will be remembered, every moment, by the one who received the gift.

The purpose of theory, Berson writes, is "to bring order, clarity, and predictability to a small corner of the world." That suffices. A theory is then a special gift, a gift for the mind in a society (of science, not the world) where thought and understanding are preeminent. A gift from one human being to another, to us all.

© Roald Hoffmann





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