Something can be both true and unimportant. Not everyone seems to be able to make that distinction. Of course, the meaning of importance may be as hard to come by as the meaning of the word true. It all depends on what the definition of "is" is.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I guess there can be things that are false that are important. Politics. for example.

Oh, and there can be things that are false that are unimportant. Like, politics.

Oh, and something can be true and important. For example, my wife is still with me. Things get confusing quickly, at least in my mind.

I once spent the better part of two years of my life determining that a specific drug interfered with the embryonic development of a parasitic worm. I suppose that was very important to the worm, but it hasn't proven particularly important to humanity.

I don't feel too bad about the time and effort, though, because it was a learning experience that was important to me. I was able to utilize the expertise I achieved in research on that project to later spend another couple of years determining that a specific insect parasite didn't really cause all that much harm to the insect. Really, that's true.

Some chemical dyes are photosensitive. When they are illuminated, they give off an electron and cause singlet oxygen to be released. Singlet oxygen is highly reactive with other compounds and can cause a lot of tissue damage.

This phenomenon has been used to treat some cancers. They flood the tumor with dye and then shine a light on it, which kills the cancer cells.

Anyway, a student and I were able to determine that a dye, rose bengal, in water, kills mosquito larvae when they are exposed to light.

Unfortunately, when rose bengal in water is exposed to light, the singlet oxygen can damage or kill most everything else in the water also. This makes it an unimportant method of mosquito control, even though it is true.

I could go on, but it would be embarrassing. It isn't that I have had any problem with determining what is true or not. It's just that I seem to have a problem determining what is important to do research on.

I also seem to have trouble determining what is important to do daily. It just isn't clear to me whether I should finish refinishing the cabinets, work on surveying insect parasitic nematodes, build another mountain dulcimer, or play the guitar. My wife has tried to help me develop my prioritization skills, but she is getting frustrated.

She has suggested that to set proper priorities I need to be more in touch with reality. That doesn't make any sense because I am a scientist.

Can a person be any more in touch with reality than scientists who study reality? I mean, those worms and mosquitoes were really dead.

This is the age of science. We are flooded with facts and reality. Every problem has a scientific solution. At least, everyone always claims that science supports their solution, just like everyone claims their problem is important.

Determining what is true is easier than determining what is important. It may take a lot of time and effort, but one can usually come to some understanding about what is true, even in politics.

Some people think that everything is relative, but if everything is relative, then that statement is relative. If that statement is relative, then something is true.

However, what is important seems to be a moving target. Under one set of conditions, just staying alive may be the most important thing to which you can apply yourself.

Under a different set of conditions, risking death may seem worth the risk. In some situations, playing the guitar may be the most important thing you can do.

Gary McCallister, gmccallister@bresnan.net, is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.

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