Science Is Story-Telling


From John Polanyi, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry in 1986:

Science never gives up searching for truth, since it never claims to have achieved it. It is civilizing because it puts truth ahead of all else, including personal interests. These are grand claims, but so is the enterprise in which scientists share. How do we encourage the civilizing effects of science? First, we have to understand science.

Scientia is knowledge. It is only in the popular mind that it is equated with facts. That is of course flattering, since facts are incontrovertible. But it is also demeaning, since facts are meaningless. They contain no narrative.

Science, by contrast, is story-telling. This is evident in the way we use our primary scientific instrument, the eye. The eye searches for shapes. It searches for a beginning, a middle, and an end.

What we see is as a consequence, culturally conditioned. This is open to misunderstanding. It might be construed to mean that our conclusions are simply a matter of taste, which they are not. Though we explore in a culturally-conditioned way, the reality we sketch is universal. It is this, at its most basic, that makes science a humane pursuit; it acknowledges the commonality of people’s experience.

A really interesting thought!

John Polanyi is the son of distinguished Hungarian chemist Michel Polanyi, who is usually credited for introducing and emphasising the role of ‘tacit’ knowledge in creative acts. Good reference on the general area of informal learning here.

Picture credit here.


One Response to Science Is Story-Telling

  1. […] More On Stories In Science In a previous post I commented on the role of stories in science. […]

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