Storytelling and science

It’s been two decades since I copied the quotation below from Jim Nollman’s book, Spiritual Ecology. At the time I wrote it down, I substituted “storyteller” for “artist”.

I was prompted by the question so many children asked when I told stories in schools, “Is that true?” I finally settled on this answer: “All of my stories are true, but not everything in my stories happened.”

That always seemed to satisfy the young questioners. They grasped intuitively what adults often seem to forget, that we can find truth in a dance, a painting, a story, a poem. It’s not a truth that can be counted, nor an experience that is suited to experimental processes.

But then, frankly, neither is the physical world scientists subject to measurements. Scientific research starts with a hypothesis, which is, in a sense, a story about the way some substance or process or creature or interaction is expected to behave. Stories start the same way, with speculation about the way people will behave.

Both are influenced by the life experience of the observer, whether scientist or storyteller. Both are subject to the surprise element. Both can be turned on their head when a scientist or storyteller comes at the research or story from an entirely different perspective.

So while I still like this quote, I no longer see the worlds of the scientist and the artist as separate and distinct. Both test hypotheses. Neither can successfully separate from the larger context. Both are essential to our lives.

An artist also asks questions. But instead of utilizing rigor and skepticism to provide experiential answers that exist in a direct causal relationship to those questions, he or she focuses upon a medium that provides the experience directly. The artist works to convey a perceptual message in a manner that requires no operational definitions and no rigid rules of correspondence to expel the subjective perception of his or her own consciousness. And whereas a scientist thrives on absolute answers expressed as numbers, an artist thrives on process. A scientist seeks to expand humanity’s frame of reference; an artist seeks to expand humanity’s depth of insight. ~ Jim Nollman, Spiritual Ecology

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Tess - August 1, 2010

Cathryn: thank you for this. I have just finished the first complete draft of Volume 2 of ou IMAGINE primers, which aimed originally to explain population health as an approach that you can actually do, rather than theorize, for Northern Health employees but they have become very popular outside NH. Volume one introduces and explains the 7 principles embedded in the acronym. Volume 2 is about story telling. This quote was prefect and is now below the table of contents…. I would love you to see it and comment … you will like the quotes I think… Game?


storyroute admin - August 2, 2010

Absolutely – you have me completely intrigued!

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