The Alpha & the Beta

Some years ago, a fellow student after meeting me expressed to me his joy in finding another rare example of that breed to which he considered also himself to belong: those who are both alpha- and beta-inclined. He referred to my having come from linguistics to biology.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but recent events have brought the remark back to mind. In class last week, a student referred with some disdain to the many Betas she encountered in some particular context she was recounting. I was reminded, then, of similar opinions toward Alphas sometimes expressed by Betas studying biology or mathematics. Today, as Romanticism was contrasted in class against Rationalism, the thought returned to me.

It seems to me that in my life and my studies thus far, I have encountered many students, and some other people, both of alpha and beta disposition, whom I have greatly liked and admired. As a general rule in Alphas, I appreciate the dedication to feeling and experience, an open mind to the world and a willingness to reconcile differences between people and peoples, and a love of art, beauty, and nature.

However, it must be said that they very often lack an entirely different sense of open-mindedness that Betas do possess: the recognition that ratio, thought, and science, too, can be beautiful and meaningful, even artistic. How often have I not heard it said by Alphas that reason is the death of art; science, the death of wonder. What narrow-mindedness! Quite on the contrary, the two support and strengthen one another. Does a biologist, in studying nature, lose that sense of joy and admiration that led her to this field of inquiry in the first place? Not at all, in my experience. Does a rainbow lose its color upon the viewer’s recognition and understanding of its origin?

Why not allow both the subjective and the objective to contribute to a thing’s overall magnificence, and for each to reinforce the other? There is certainly no need for these perspectives to be at odds with one another. Happy they, in other words, who can appreciate both the real & the imagined; the simple & the intricate; the beautiful & the ugly.


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