Complementarity as explained by Neils Bohr

I was recently reminded of one of my father's favorite stories. He told it whenever an explanation seemed to be too pat, a new report too simplistic, a conversation to narrow. The more I think about storytelling itself, the more is seems important to keep the following in mind....

Neils Bohr was a famous Danish physicist, instrumental in the development of Quantum Theory. One day, he was giving a lecture on "Complementarity". The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a famous example of complementarity. It states that the more you know about the momentum of an electron, the less you can know about its position, and vice-versa. In other words, two qualities have complementarity if the closer you get to knowing one, the further you are from knowing the other. Got it? Here's the point.

During this lecture, a student stood up in the back of the room and said, "Dr. Bohr. What is the complementarity for 'Truth'?"

Bohr replied, "Clarity."


Bohr implied that the more clearly we state something, the further we get from articulating the actual truth.

  1. Do you agree that truth and clarity hold this relationship?

  2. When is it more important to be clear? When to speak the whole truth?

  3. What does it mean to be completely truthful? Another famous scientist, Dr. Francis Crick said, "80% of what we believe to be true, we make up."

  4. How often do you consciously embellish your stories? Unconsciously?

  5. How do you feel about the idea of embellishing stories?

  6. How important is it to you that a story be true?

  7. How does context affect your choices around truth and clarity?

  8. Are your favorite stories "true"? How do you know?

  9. How do stories help us find truth, even when graphs and figures may seem clearer?