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Defining Science and Literature

Hilary McGowan's picture
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Defining Literature and Science


Literature and Science, both seem to stare at each other fiercely in the eye, threatening to divulge their contrasting nature, but never actually finding the place or time to do so. They are placed into separate categories, carefully hand-fed and coaxed to come alive in their own ways. Literature at one end and Science at another. But what happens when we try to place them together? How do we make sure that the two don’t morph into the same being? The act of defining characteristics of the two seems like a simple ordeal, yet when you reach out to take the nuts and bolts out of each one, you encounter trouble. It seems that although the two take up completely different planes, they seem to overlap in some space without borders. Where is this place that Literature and Science are coming together? It seems that they never really are apart, besides in the preset constructs that we’ve placed for them. Each is a force that comes from the imagination of the mind, special corridors that allow for humans to create rules, worlds, organisms, and anything else that can come from the mind.

Science may seem to be a clear winner in the category of reality versus imagination, but then you have to be able to unmistakably be able to pin the exact specifications of what reality is. What we perceive is reality. What we design through experiments came from the imagination and curiosity of a person, wondering how the universe worked and the possibilities for what they could find. Subatomic particles are set to be the truth and an exact story for how the universe is made up, although we cannot really see these things. The shape and design of the Universe is written into books as a story that seems most accurate, but it is still created from the imaginations of humans trying to piece together the world around them. No matter what scientific theory made up, it is still a story in some legend.

The separation of the two becomes harder to quantify as Science’s fact drifts farther into a possibility. For one, it is constantly morphing. New theories, new experiments, new scientists are coming up with ideas to measure and discover the amazing worlds that are around us. Science happens to be created out of the minds of humans and the discoveries that we recognize to be true- whether they truly are or are mere guesses.

As we quantify and explain the universe in Science, how exactly do we find the line where the stories of Science begin and Literature end? Literature, in essence, is merely a collection of stories and the imagination of people. They can be based off the things that a person has experienced, a dream they have had, the past wisdoms they have accumulated, and the experimentation of the life that they had led.

Hey, that sounds an awful lot like the description of Science!

We have a problem now. Where do these two entities, so formerly different and unique, lie in the centers of how they can be distinguished to us? Each is a story. Each has been created through the thought and observations of a human and put down on paper. We find ourselves spinning around searching for the defining characteristic that pulls the two apart and finds the separate boxes to place them in.

If Science and Literature and honestly the creative product of the human mind, the pure distinction between the two is how they are recorded. A matter of style in the academic and less rule based fiction writing that can exist. A fiction book would never be called, ‘Science’, and a thick and probing scientific paper would never be read as literature. The pleasure taken from acquiring the knowledge given in the two forms is the largest factor in determining Science and Literature from each other. The style, whether written as a hard document meant to formally write down the observations using a specific language targeted towards a select few (either in a stream of consciences or a text of a research paper), is the true representation of where Science and Literature come apart in their seemingly divided categories. A matter of style, not the truth of it all, lets us find our categories in their worlds of specifications and rules of nature and truth. 


 Perhaps Science and Literature really aren’t so different after all.