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Environment

Richard Zare's Priestley Address

May 24, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 21

I was pleased to see that in his Priestley Address, Richard Zare used a connect-the-dots puzzle to illustrate the concept of "thinking outside the box" (C&EN, March 22, page 19). I have used this puzzle in much the same way but with a slightly different spin. To me, the puzzle represents the importance of knowing just what the box is and not presuming limitations that do not exist.

Most people who appear to think outside the box are instead thinking inside a different and possibly larger box. But there is always a box. In our businesses, it may involve the second law of thermodynamics. To a poet, it may involve the definitions of haiku or the Elizabethan sonnet. To Michelangelo, sculpting his "David," it was the size, shape, and natural flaws and coloration of his block of marble. We can do wonderful things within the box, but it must be the true box and then we must have skill and imagination.

Jim Birkett
Nobleboro, Maine

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