Member 1457
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Milan/Tokyo, IT
Immortal since Jan 11, 2008
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    In The Total Library, Rene posted a really nice bit about narratives - grand ones. He mentioned Obvious, and a post of his, and it drew a comment from me. But then the comment got to be very long, and I felt rude clogging up that nice post, and the Library. So I put it here, out of the way.

    I could have spent this time introducing you to the discussion, but I didn't. Sorry. Here's a lead in: Rene said,
    "Because narrative tends to be closely related to the Humanities, the discipline’s stories are much wider spread."

    And so without more ado...

    I'm not sure that the humanities' stories are more widely spread than the sciences'. I can't decide. I've already admitted that I'm a bad reader. Anyway, the way I understand the idea of 'narrative' in Obvious' writings leads me to think that people are put off from creating scientific narratives, simply because they don't have the expert knowledge that they think they need in order to create them. I'll try to explain that.

    Perhaps many people see the ground covered by the humanities as accessible, comprehensible territory, whereas science is popularly understood to be complicated and for experts. Yet nowadays Western society is dominated by scientific images, ideas, and metaphors. Simplified versions of scientific notions like evolution, relativity, progress and explanation are adopted piecemeal and applied and misapplied in politics, the press, advertising - that may be the best example - and even back in the humanities.

    For me, a narrative - in this case, the narrative(s) of a discipline, but I think any narrative - is not a history. It's not a true story; it's not just what happened, in order. It is just the kind of thing that is understood, at a very basic level, by humans. We make ourselves stories of the world that account for the various pieces of knowledge that we need to tessellate. As such, narratives could perhaps be large-scale things, composed by a community and so existing in some sense 'outside' of the individuals of that community. (Like, e.g., accepted common knowledge about a subject. [I'm not sure about this idea, personally, but there's room for it.]) However, seeing them this way, narratives are certainly things held by individuals - individuals' versions of events, 'told' to themselves in the act of mentally grasping their subject matter.

    I get the feeling - and I'm speaking as a non-scientist, in case you hadn't guessed - that in practice, in modern society, people have to build a narrative of science on or around the very few fragments that they (think they) have actually understood. Hence the distorted accounts of scientific ideas that prevail outside the scientific community, when accounts of them are given. In contrast, things like literature, philosophy, and maybe even history, are (I think) typically seen as being more accessible to the layperson. Therefore, laypeople (think they) understand more of the subjects they turn their minds to and so have more of a pre-existing foundation on which to build their narratives.

    I'm not sure that could account for a big difference in spread between the narratives of science and the humanities, but maybe it's a useful or interesting analysis all the same. (I certainly don't think I have answered the question, "Why are there no films about Tesla?")

    (I'm sure when I started I had an idea about books and the internet, which I was heading towards, but I didn't get there. Maybe something for a post in itself...)
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