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Yogi Berra, Beautiful Equations, and Predicting The Future

October 19, 2022

Caricature of Yankee great and Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra as a fortune teller looking into a crystal ball that looks like a baseballYogi Berra— anybody remember him??– please say yes!!blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He was one of the stars of the New York Yankees when I was a kid. A great player, and he’s in the Hall of Fame (2,150 hits, 358 home runs, 1,430 runs batted in, 3 Most Valuable Player Awards, and he was selected to play in 18 All-Star Games).blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here’s what he looked like in his prime:blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

Two photographs of New York Yankee great Yogi Berra; left: holding baseball (Bettmann Archive); right: with chest protector and catcher's mitt (Associated Press)

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highSo what’s he doing here (top), peering into a baseball crystal ball filled with atomic energy??blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

I was inspired to write this post after reading Using Science To Predict The Future(s) by Frank Wilczek in the June 25-26 weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Yogi became famous for saying things that were inadvertently funny. His most famous, said about baseball game outcomes, is: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

But I never expected to see him referenced in a Science column. Here’s what Mr. Wilczek said:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

To think intelligently about what we ought to do, we must think about what should happen, so that we can act to
make it happen.

In short, we need to think about futures. That’s futures,
with an s.

As the famous philosopher and bad-ball hitter Yogi Berra observed, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Here Yogi anticipated modern trends in quantum
mechanics and chaos theory that put fundamental limits
on predictability– as does the sheer complexity of the
world, with its many interacting parts.

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highThe idea of Yogi the Philosopher anticipating trends in quantum mechanics made me laugh out loud– an inspired
bit of humor.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

However, I had no recollection of Yogi being a bad-ball hitter.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

If you’re not familiar with the expression, it means someone who manages to get base hits even when he swings at bad pitches outside the strike zone.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I found some funny quotes (by others) re Yogi’s talent for hitting bad pitches:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Yogi had the fastest bat I ever saw. He could hit a ball
late that was already past him, and take it out of the
park. The pitchers were afraid of him because he’d hit anything, so they didn’t know what to throw. Yogi had
them psyched out and he wasn’t even trying to psyche
them out. — Hector Lopez

He ain’t much to look at and he looks like he’s doing everything wrong, but he can hit. He got two hits off us
on wild pitches. —Mel Ott

He hit it off the ground. And in the eighth, off the same
pitch—a low, inside fast ball—he hits inside third. Three
hits and he didn’t hit a good pitch all day. How the hell
do you pitch a guy like that? —Del Rice

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highGetting back to physics, Mr. Wilczek writes that “though we can’t predict the future, we can imagine possible futures.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It was in this context that Albert Einstein asserted, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” because imagination “embraces all there ever will be.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Mr. Wilczek goes on to say that recent work in physics and cosmology (the origin and development of the universe) show that “thinking about the way the world should work can lead us to make guesses that turn out to describe the way the world does work.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He quotes theoretical physicist Paul Dirac who wrote, “It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one’s equations, and if one has really sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Why quote Dirac? Because:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

(His) playful fusion (my emphasis) of special relativity and quantum theory led him to a beautiful equation for electrons that seemed to have a fatal flaw.

But the “flaw,” properly understood, predicted something wonderfully new: antimatter.

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highI don’t picture Mr. Dirac sitting around in his lab cracking jokes, but his being “playful” tells me that on some level, he was “thinking funny.” He was giving himself permission to come at problems from odd and unlikely angles.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I also liked Dirac’s idea of trying to “get beauty in one’s equations.” That’s good advice, no matter what your “equations” might be: scientific research, financial planning, psychology, marketing, theology, law, auto mechanics, whatever.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Beauty aligns with truth. You can feel it when things start falling into place, and you know you’re on a “sure line of progress.”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Einstein and Dirac thought outside the box, Yogi Berra hit pitches outside the strike zone.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

So think funny and keep swinging.
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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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