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Science and Magic: Puzzling out how myth, science and story overlap

What if you missed something?

What if what you know isn’t everything there is to know?

I mean, you feel you’ve got life pretty much figured out. And then something unexpected happens. This new idea that entered your life – you find yourself struggling with it. You deny it, then maybe after a little while, you discover that you’re okay with it.

But you can’t really talk about it because it sounds way too weird. Hell, you didn’t believe it at first, either. Why would you expect any else to? Yet, you get a distinct impression that your insight feels true. But, you don’t have the hard evidence to prove it.

What do you do when information you once rejected might actually make sense?

Then, because of your new insights, you start noticing things in a different way. You connect a thought about some mythical element in a story you heard when you were a kid with a psychological truth you just experienced. Or you read an article that talks about the bones archaeologists discovered describing a hobbit-like race, or even giants, and you wonder, could this be true?

And the more you learn, the more questions you have:

  • Stonehenge during the dayHow did they really build Stonehenge? And for what?
  • Why do the giant heads on Easter Island face in and not out?
  • Is there a reason why are pyramids built on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean?
  • Why does the trauma of a great flood show up in so many cultures’ mythic past?
  • Why is storytelling such a common tool used by people who rely on oral traditions to share knowledge down through the generations?
  • And on and on it goes.

It’s enough to keep you awake at night. Pondering. Wondering. Imagining. Thinking.

What’s real?

Is it more, or less real, if you rely only on your head to think it through logically?

What happens to your perception when you allow heart-thinking to meld with head-thinking? Is that still considered logical thinking? Is it still evidence-based?

What if magic exists in a scientific way that could be measured? What makes it magic? The fact that we can’t see it and measure it with our own eyes? Or with instruments that are yet to be invented? If you can measure magical phenomena, does it then transform into a science?

Approaches to puzzle out how myth, science and story might overlap

At this arbitrary set of starting blocks, consider how your personal experiences, including what you’ve been taught is or is not true, and as a consequence, reveal to you how you perceive what is real – and what couldn’t possibly be real.

Let’s start with a few questions about myth, magic, science and story.

Why does story show up in all societies of the world? What purpose does story serve?

Image of continents painted in bright colours

You know when a story has sucked you in.

You feel your heart drop into your stomach, and your palms get sweaty. Your heart beat picks up and you catch yourself squirming in your seat. Your eyes get a little moist and you’re having trouble swallowing the emotion stuck in your throat. And the list goes on.

It might be a movie, a cut scene in a video game, a book, a poem, or even a song. The medium is irrelevant. The key here is that the story somehow grabbed you by the lapels and kept you 100% focused on it.

Have you ever noticed how you can instantly recall the contents of that story? You might have completely forgotten about the details but for a stray scent, or a certain time of the year, or a specific feeling, or whatever, triggers your memory of that story, and it seems to unfold instantly in your mind’s eye. Witness the awesome power of the hard drive of your mind… or is it your DNA? maybe your heart? or possibly your soul? Anyway, whatever it is, you so fully integrated that story that you remember its details and, surprisingly, you experience an instant recall of what you were going through in your life at the time you experienced that story. Artificial intelligence still has a long way to go still to simulate this kind of storage power, don’t you think?

Does science have something to say about story?

Would you be surprised to learn that people are studying the convergence between what novelists intuit and modern science understands about the neuroscience of story?

For example, Gert J. Scholtz in The Neuroscience of Story post shares highlights of the results of seven major studies examining the neuroscience of story. He talks about how story has the power to suck people into a simulated reality, which can help them prepare for the possibility of similar issues showing up in their own life. He also shares how stories help improve language comprehension, recording of sensations, co-ordination of movement, improved empathy, and the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes.

But you know this already. You didn’t need the science to tell you what you already feel is true. Or did you? Even if you did, does it matter how you came to your working theory?

What is science? Is it a method or a religion?

Man in his twenties looking through a microscope

Have you ever noticed in movies and TV shows how the white lab coat seems to mean the refreshing benefits of calm neutrality and patient observation? The person who wears the robe of the white lab coat is immediately given more respect. Oddly, control tends to be automatically abdicated to the wisdom the wearer of the white lab coat holds.

Do not the mages in fantasy stories wear robes that set them and their specialized set of knowledge apart? What exactly does the wearing of these robes represent? What about the robes worn in different belief systems the world over, and what it implies for those in the presence of the wearers of the special robe? How is the lab coat in a sci-fi story any different as a marker of specialized knowledge then the mage’s clothing, or those who represent other belief systems?

Science as a religion?

Some people suggest that science is a religion.

Consider this article — Top Ten Reasons Science is Another Religion – by Cortical Rider. In this article, Rider talks about origin stories (ahem, origin theories), dogma, saints, a priesthood, heretics, and so on. A lively and bold post written by a biologist with a PhD in Neurosciences.

Science as a method?

Others say science is a method.

For example, Jeff Sweitzer in his post Science is Not Religion with the is very clear that “that science Is not a ‘belief system’ but a process and methodology for seeking an objective reality.” He goes on to say that over time science is self-policing because competing scientists are motivated to build on each other’s findings or to prove colleagues wrong through tests that others can repeat.

So, competition and the ability to repeat tests distinguish science as a method and a process?

What do you think?

Is myth real? Does it represent a version of the truth?

Stone sculpture of Atlas holding up the world

“Myths are often beautiful, breathtaking narratives. Science, though, is something far more empowering. It doesn’t just tell stories that are real – it also reveals that fairy tales, just sometimes, aren’t tales at all. They’re true.” This is Robin Andrew’s concluding statement in his post Six Ancient Legends That Are Based on Real Events.

He offers scientific evidence that could explain six world legends, such as:

  • Crater Lake in Oregon and the Battle of the Gods describing a 7,700-year-old volcanic eruption over 40 times the power of the May 1980 Mount St. Helens cataclysm
  • Sri Lanka and the Ape-Men Army crossing a floating bridge now submerged and revealed through aerial photography
  • A Guest Star in 1006 described by Persian scholar Ibn Sina confirmed as the merging of two white dwarfs of which the energy remnants are being measured by high power NASA instruments.

He also talks about explanations for Atlantis, the Great Flood, and a powerful earthquake as the source of The Thunderbird and the Whale legend.

Do you think there’s a grain of truth in myths?

So, what do you think? Do we have enough evidence to confirm or deny his proposals? Probably not in the technical sense. Is his educated guess possible? Sure, it could be. So what?

I guess it depends on your purpose.

If you want to prove beyond reasonable logical doubt, well, it looks like his conclusions aren’t scientific enough.

Many others besides Robin Andrew have suggested possible explanations for many legends and myths around the world. Do these hold up to the scrutiny of science, or rather, science as a method?

Is magic a method? Does that make it a science?

Words problem, analysis, solution, with a microscope focusing on analysis

Isn’t it intriguing how in the Harry Potter books magical systems are treated like scientific disciplines? Students have classes, books, methods, labs and even examinations. Is that what it takes to make magic serious and, therefore, by extension of its seriousness, scientific?

Would there things that you do in your everyday life that would be considered a form of magic? What about what smart phones allow you to do? Satellite TV? Smart cars? Electricity? Magnetism? Airplanes? And so on.

A Fool’s Alchemy

Jester doll in creme and pale yellow clothing sitting on a stool

Remember, this blog is a just a jester’s foolish quest to discover the secrets to create compelling stories and the world they live within. Within that framing, it’s fun to try and understand the alchemical properties of the ways in which myth, science and story overlap.

A bonus benefit: All these different ways of seeing and understanding the world feed the mind. It’s always fascinating to see what bubbles up from the subconscious to help develop intriguing stories.

Share your thoughts about any of the ideas or questions in this post. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

The only thing I ask is that we model courtesy and respect in the way in which we talk about these unknowns.

Super simple.

It’s going to be a blast following Alice down the rabbit hole and see what turns up! ?

Classic woodcut picture of Alice pulling back the curtain to reveal a small door

Images courtesy of the artists at Pixabay.

2 thoughts on “Science and Magic: Puzzling out how myth, science and story overlap

  1. Colin

    Really enjoyed ready your post, I especially like the section “What is science? Is it a method or a religion?” Lot’s to think about for sure. Cheers 😉

  2. Pingback: Are You Leading Your Business with Your Name? A Scary Idea for Us Introverts (Beyond the Newsletter August 2017) | Gisele Thomson

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