Murray Gell-Mann on why being in awe inhibits learning:
I said I’d rather be poor or die than be an engineer because I would be no good at it. If I designed something it would fall down. When I was admitted to Yale, I took an aptitude test, and when the counselor gave me the results of the exam, he said: “You could be lots of different things. But don’t be an engineer.”
After my father gave up on engineering, he said, ‘How about we compromise and go with physics? General relativity, quantum mechanics, you will love it.’ I thought I would give my father’s advice a try. I don’t know why. I never took his advice on anything else. He told me how beautiful physics would be if I stuck with it, and that notion of beauty impressed me. My father studied those things. He was a great admirer of Einstein. He would lock himself in his room and study general relativity. He never really understood it. My opinion is that you have to despise something like that to get good at it.
If you admire it sufficiently, you’ll be in awe of it, so you’ll never learn it. My father thought it must be very hard, and it will take years to understand it, and only a few people understand it, and so on. But I had a wonderful teacher at Yale, Henry Margenau, who took the opposite attitude. He thought relativity was for everybody. Just learn the math. He’d say, “We’ll prepare the math on Tuesday and Thursday, and we’ll cover general relativity on Saturday and next Tuesday.” And he was right. It isn’t that bad.
Susan Kruglinski, The Man Who Found Quarks and Made Sense of the Universe, DISCOVER Magazine, April 2009.