John to Tommy (X-Club), April 21, 1945
April 21, 1945
Ever since my impertinent intrusion on your question at the last meeting of the X Club I have felt that some kind of amends are in order. You may have noticed that I have an Irish streak in me that compels me to wise-crack without warning. It is not a bad trait unless it gives offense, and one can never be sure how it will be received. I do want to say, though, that your question was a good one; in fact it was responsible for an exchange of letters over a period of three years between my brother and myself. And I do not pretend now to be able to answer it. You may recall that Pontius Pilate asked it, and I dare say Adam had the same urge when he got curious about the tree of life. My brother and I finally decided it all depends on whether you spell it Truth or truth. Human beings can never attain the Truth. All we can do is to explore the laws of nature as manifested to us so imperfectly, compare notes with the observations of the wise men through all the ages, and mutually agree that in all probability we have arrived at the truth. I have never heard a denial that 2 plus two equals 4, and therefore accept it as the truth. But, as Lowenberg so able pointed out, there was a time when a flat earth was the truth. And when I went to high school the atom was the smallest indivisible fraction of matter: now they are smashing it, as Cale indicated. So I have little patience with any proclaimer of the Truth, and every respect for the seekers of truth, for only the humble can catch glimpses of the Eternal.
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