What does "we owe our careers to having been the scientists"? Does it mean "We have our careers because we have become the scientists (who had the careers)"? It is not understandable to me. The problem seems to lie in two places: (1) Does "having been" mean "having become"? (2)Does "who had them" mean "who had the careers"?

I suspect it’s hard for many physicists to imagine that we are not near the end of our search for the ultimate laws of nature. We have been raised in a culture in which it’s all about having the right answer, and we owe our careers to having been the scientists who had them. But I’ve always had in my head an image of how much more people in the future will know, and how silly our claims to knowledge will look to them. This has probably made me a less effective advocate of my own ideas.

Source: An excerpt from the Epilogue of Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution by Lee Smolin

2 Answers 2


It is saying, in a humble way, that they had the right answers. They owe their careers to having had the answers.

The writer appears to be acknowledging the fact that many scientists have gone before them, they merely continued their work and came up with the right answers, so they perhaps consider themselves 'fortunate' that they were the scientists (among all the others that went before them) that got the recognition for that and a career as a result.

  • Thanks. Do "the scientists" refer back to "we" (the subject)?
    – NewPlanet
    Jan 25, 2021 at 9:16
  • 2
    @NewPlanet Yes. It is in effect saying "we are the scientists with the right answers".
    – Astralbee
    Jan 25, 2021 at 9:17

They were able to have careers as physicists because they were 'the scientists who had the right answers' which society required.

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