Quantum physicsStorytelling

Particle Storytelling…

I can’t deny it. I’ve got one foot in storytelling and another in science. I’ve always been interested in how people think and why people do stuff, and my training as a scientist places me perfectly to explore this, both through measuring and through understanding. This is because science itself is not the rigid, contained structure that it sometimes appears.

Science has a lot in common with philosophy and storytelling. On a postmodern level, the common unit of currency is language; everything is storytelling, even a set of rules that we apply to an object, as there is a human experiential attachment. Our own stories run through our minds in a loop, expressed in the world via various mediums, such as TV and film, even books, that are aided by scientific technology.

Yet there is still an invisible divide between stories and science. Could this be based in ‘truth’ and ‘proof’? After all, stories are ‘imaginary’ and science is ‘factual’, aren’t they? Well, not all stories are imaginary; in fact most are based in some element of our experience, even if it’s only in how to construct a story; unless you are perhaps freewriting there is some plan or intention to write a structured piece of, well, story. And science is not a claim to truth, but an attempt to make sense of the chaotic world through measurement. So often, ‘proof’ amounts to a small sample moulded around the mathematical aspects of language that calm our sense of order, and explained in technical language to help us nod our affirmation. The key words in science are really transparency and uncertainty.

Philosophy is the central meeting point. In quantum physics, scientists have been telling us about ‘thought experiments’ and ‘forecasts’ based on things they cannot see. This is accepted as ‘real’ science, yet the question of decoherence is also a philosophical position, and in some ways an investigation into how ego-driven we are.

When we tell a story, this is also a kind of ‘though experiment’. In the same way that quantum particle physicists forecast the future for something they cannot see or even know (they do know what’s NOT there), ever nearing the interaction of sensory perception and consciousness with the material world for we and it are constructed of the same particles, storytelling is casting a net of past experience over what we perceive to be the order of people’s lives.

In both cases there are rules that have been set to be broken; I recently read a novel that moved away from the set ‘point-of-view’ rule and once I had adjusted my writer’s brain to this, it was exciting and fast moving as we saw a great interaction between the characters. Likewise, Einstein’s famous ‘God does not play dice with the universe’ statement when referring to the proposed randomness of quantum physics is now partially redundant as new theories arise to extend Einstein’s work.

Even the telling of the story of physics is concerned with a beginning, middle and end. The Big Bang or not, the evolving universe, or not, the expanding or imploding, the end of the world. A story to make sense on a timeline. The story of the world told in scientific and mathematic language that we can manipulate it in our own lives. Storytelling is so deeply embedded in all that we do that sometimes we take it for granted.

The grand narrative of physics, the overriding story of how we order chaos is far from ‘The End’ and the bounds of the human imagination knows no bounds – the rules may be slightly different but the storytelling process is the same.