Mathematics contrasted strongly with the ambiguities and contradictions in people. The world of people had no certainty or logic. People confused me. My mother sometimes said cruel things to me and my brothers, even though I felt that she loved us. My aunt Jean continued to drive recklessly and at great speeds, even though everyone told her that she would kill herself in an automobile. My uncle Edwin asked me to do a mathematical calculation that would help him run the family business with more efficiency, but when I showed him the result he brushed it aside with disdain. Blanche, the dear woman who worked forever for our family, deserted her husband after he abused her and then talked about him with affection for years. How does one make sense out of such actions and words? A long time later, after I became a novelist, I realized that the ambiguities and complexities of the human mind are what give fiction and perhaps all art its power. A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us and haunts us long after the first reading, because we never fully understand the characters. We sweep through the narrative over and over again, searching for meaning. Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author. Once we see to the bottom of their hearts, the novel is dead for us. Eventually, I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty. Both are necessary in the world. Both are part of being human.

From A Sense of the Mysterious by Alan Lightman.

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