BYU

Letter From Dean Gus Hart

Dear students, alumni, and faculty:

In the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, we strive to answer questions in a variety of ways: We measure the behavior of substances in a lab; we experiment with data sets and theorems in computer programs; we venture out into the field to observe phenomena in the world around us. However, as seekers of knowledge, we will inevitably encounter uncertainty in our efforts. Dr. Amy Tanner, assistant professor of mathematics education, suggested in a devotional address that uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing:

“Knowledge that is complete and certain can also be limiting and, quite honestly not all that interesting. A living knowledge that changes, grows, adapts, and motivates us to action is a knowledge that embraces states of uncertainty and not knowing because these states lead us toward change and growth. In fact, as humans, we tend to move on quickly from simple facts like 2 + 3 = 5 to complex questions of what we can do with these facts or to questions that stretch our understanding past its apparent limits.”[1]

Especially in the fields of science and math, having the humility and courage to be uncertain—even be completely wrong at times—is what drives all of us to learn, progress, and innovate. That’s why we aspire to foster an environment where faculty and students can push the bounds of their knowledge while accepting that uncertainty is a necessary part of the process. For example, our college strongly encourages students to participate in mentored research, not just because they will gain valuable resume-building experience, but especially because they will see firsthand how to thrive despite setbacks and imperfect understanding.

I also believe that the faith-based foundation of a BYU education helps us understand that uncertainty can push us to outcomes that eclipse our doubts. In the Book of Mormon, Alma teaches us that faith is not a perfect knowledge of spiritual things but rather an opportunity to “experiment” upon the words of Christ. As we desire to trust God and follow Him in faith, we will find that our “understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand” (Alma 32:34).

Both in the spiritual and the scientific sense, this enlightenment and intellectual expansion is what we as scientists, researchers, and disciples of Christ should seek in our professional and personal pursuits. We need not allow uncertainty or doubt to cripple our efforts. Perhaps Professor Tanner said it best:

“Accepting that we may not know what we think we know does not mean we need to let go of all certainty or conviction. Rather, openness to being wrong can be a humble position of faith where hope for things which are not seen can flourish as we allow ourselves to accept that there are things which are not seen to us.”[2]

I hope that we can all embrace the potential goodness in uncertainty as we continue to seek answers to our questions and gain knowledge that will last into the eternities.

Sincerely,

Gus L. W. Hart, Dean
College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Sources

[1] Amy Tanner, “The Gift of Uncertainty,” (speech, Brigham Young University Devotional, Provo, UT, July 9, 2019).

[2] Ibid.

By Angela Cava Posted on