Embracing the science, and celebrating the story
Posted by Arlene Somerton Smith
Look at these four letters: E T H A
We see those four letters and feel no emotional response to them. The four nondescript letters do not amount to anything in the English language. There is no story there.
Here they are again: H A T E
Those four letters take up the same physical space on the page and the same number of computer bytes. But there is so much more there now. Nothing to probe in a Petri dish or measure by micrometer, but it is unmistakably there. Those four letters in that order create another palpable, but not measurable presence. The physical properties of the letters do not elicit the response, for they are the same as the previous four to which we had little or no reaction. Something non-physical and not yet measurable elicits a visceral response in the reader.
At one end of the spectrum, we all move in the same physical sphere together. Matter flows from place to place, momentarily coming together to allow us to do our dishes, enjoy a glass of Merlot, or walk to the corner store. While we are drying our favourite plate, savouring the last ruby-coloured drop, or paying for the chips and dip, we are all subject to the same laws of classical mechanics that govern our material world.
At the other end of the spectrum, we all live the mystery of the unseen and not yet measurable. Our stomachs clench in response to the letters h-a-t-e. We have all had the experience of feeling an abrupt shift in the atmosphere of a group meeting when a negative person enters the room.
We are all physical. We all have a story. Why, then, are there so few productive conversations about this?
Because scientists believe that if they discover the science behind the story, they will rob it of its magic. And because people of faith are afraid they will.
Explaining, but not explaining away
It comes down to the difference between explaining, and explaining away. Science can often explain things, but what it cannot do is explain away the magic we feel when we live the story.
Rupert Sheldrake, in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, puts it this way: “In a city street, there are buildings of different designs, but what makes them different is not the building materials. They could all be made of chemically identical bricks, concrete, or timber. If demolished and analyzed chemically, they might be indistinguishable. It is the architects’ plans that make them different, and these plans do not show up in any chemical analysis.”
What science has not managed to do yet, is to measure the architects’ plans, what I call the story dimension. Science helps to explain things, but the magic of the story is still ours to enjoy.