Frenemic (adj) — For more use the DOOR…




   First of all, “frenemy” (frĕn’ ⋅ ĕ ⋅ mē) has already hit legitimacy (Oxford, Webster’s, Scrabble, etc.)–at first, says one source, in 1950. It implies the existence of opposites that “tangle,” and yet one accepts–or looks past–if one considers something closely. It’s a kind of combining of “friend” and “enemy” opposites that nevertheless are acceptable in an acceptable whole. According to Oxford, is means “a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.”

   Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson¹ has recently used the word to describe our understanding of dark matter². In short, such matter, though nobody’s ever seen it, has 6 times the gravitational effect as ordinary–what-we-learned-about-in-high school–matter. He declares with candor:

“…[D]ark matter is our frenemy. We have no clue what it is. It’s kind of annoying. But we desperately need it in our calculations to arrive at an accurate description of the universe. Scientists are generally uncomfortable whenever we must base our calculations on concepts we don’t understand, but we’ll do it when we have to.” (italics, ours)

   Such a statement is freighted with meaning. Are scientists are saying there’s something that they don’t know about but they still do? How can one seemingly accept opposites? Or different sets of information to accept two parts? Well, first there are many “logical” science concepts that are very difficult to see, or explain, without losing most of their audience. (With Tyson in this case, that’s 100%.) To say certain things another way: When we observe and/or measure some happenings, or behaviors, with numbers we often arrive at possibilities or conclusions that are hard to wrap understandings around.

   Numbers can go all over the place. But still, sometimes they can helpfully, though uneasily, work in our ordinary frames of reference. (I can swim 1/2 way across the lake in 10 minutes, 1/2 the the remaining distance in the next 10 minutes, and so on, and if so, I will get closer and closer to the other side without ever reaching it.) Distance, time, and space can get very complicated if we push the envelope with familiar measurement.

   So science is not so cut and dry as one might expect. That’s important to remember.

   With all that we’ve said, we’ll posit a neologism:

frenemic (adj) –

   [frĕ · nēm’ · ic; based of frenemy, rhymes with anemic]  the characteristic of an object, idea, or way of thinking that largely can be demonstrated logical and true, but only with an addendum of important essential features that are missing, undemonstrable, or simply beyond, or presently beyond, the pale of complete human understanding.  Ex: When considering the course or path of physical, chemical, and biological evolution, the Cambrian Explosion suggests drastic, sudden future biologic change, but with regard to what is responsible for such change, information is only frenemic to what had to come before it. Ex. It can be demonstrated that every physical thing must occupy a particular space, but individual quarks are frenemic in that they can occupy several places at once depending on who’s observing where they are.

   Frenemic does not mean “wrong”; it simply means not explainable, not explainable yet or possibly ever, or not capable of being explained by science. It’s implied, however, by what’s branded that way that certain information not verified by science is still worthy of serious consideration.

   Frenemic? You heard it here first at A Dozen Seconds. As to “frenemy”: That’s Tyson’s fault.


   ¹ Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Norton, 2017, p.87). A great book!

   ² The existence of  “dark matter,” though not visibly seen or explainable, has been accepted by nearly all astrophysicists for the last 40 or so years.