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Anne Dalke's picture

And on the other side of the hall....

I've heard Paul talk about "science as story" quite a few times (the last couple of versions focused on whether there is life on Mars, and the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami , as starting points for a story of story-telling). Each time 'round, with each refinement, I find myself picking up some new ideas. What excited me first, last week, was the question of whether "seriously loopy science" could only be conducted by humans (I think not, and I found a great article this week, by Mitch Resnick, called " Like a Tree, " which suggests that plants also engage in this observation-making/story-altering process: its about a 'walking tree' in Costa Rica that actually changes its location over time).

I also found myself quite struck by a second observation which arose at the end of last Tuesday's lecture about the move from non-narrative to narrative story-telling (from static to historical accounts of why-things-are): the idea that, in our desire and search for fixed truths, we loop back again to "non-narrative" story-telling, accounts that don't change (or that we hope won't change) over time.

Discussion across the hall in Group A on Thursday, as Megan said, focused on who the readers of this scientific story are. We found ourselves grouped along quite a few different axes (and haven't figured out yet if/how those groups intersect). Some of us look for characters, others for ideas; some of us want facts, others concepts; some of us are scientists, some humanists, some social scientists; some of us are believers (looking to be convinced), others are skeptics (needing to be convinced), others are cynics (seemingly "unconvinceable"). We spent some time considering the usefulness of the both the believing and doubting games as complementary ways toward understanding: trying on a story, trying to think of reasons to believe it, trying to add evidence to make it work, can be useful tools to complement the activities of questioning logic, evidence and scope.

We also spent some time thinking about our own observations of the processes of evolution, and some more time trying to figure out if/how the story of evolution could be "useful" in our own lives. What difference does it make, to "believe" or "use" this story to make sense of the ways things are?

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