Wednesday, February 20, 2013


In the Land of Badassery, William Thomson is a major player, a physicist who figured out the correct value of absolute zero. He's such a badass, few people think of his name — it's all about the title he carried, Lord Kelvin, and the unit of measurement for temperature named after it.

Oh, and the appliance company that slyly took the name to sell refrigerators.

This is what happens when hubris takes control and you start to believe the hype.

Hubris: "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." Or so says Merriam-Webster, and you know how I loves me some Merriam-Webster.

Hubris: Thomson had it. In 1895 he scoffed at "heavier-than-air flying machines" and swore they could not work. Apparently, he was wrong.

But it's easy to see how someone can be so smart and so stupid. When an intelligent human listens to enough puffery he or she can't help but agree with it, and once we start agreeing we stop listening to reality. We all like compliments. We all want to be the target of someone's affection and attention. I once knew a woman who told me the biggest lesson she gleaned from me was that she now knew she was hot. Needless to say, once she obtained that knowledge she had no need for the person who helped her believe such things.

I have been guilty of equally audacious behavior and wild self-importance. Because the universe demands balance, the penance for such hubris has always been an equal measure of humiliation. The Book of Samuel comes to mind: oh, how the mighty have fallen. Believe the hype and accept the consequences. Even a badass like William Thomson is susceptible to that truth. The Kelvinator is the cold proof.

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