Appreciating Stories – as a Scientist, Writer, and Human

When things get difficult, I seek comfort in stories. This might not be so surprising, after all, stories are the fundamental building blocks of human reality.

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Evolution is one of the most fascinating stories of reality.

We view the world through our identity, the story of who we are, and we weave in new information into our worldview in the form of stories, too. All too easily we may reject information if we feel it does not fit into the narratives important to us.

Science, for me, is the idea that the story of the universe is so incredible and so valuable, that it is worth it to keep our narratives open so that we may consider new plot twists carefully even if they may at first confuse or surprise us. Real things in the world matter, and our stories should strive to align with that reality. Often enough reality is indeed stranger than our fictions.

That’s not to downplay the role of fiction, fantasy, and imagination in our lives.

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My dearest book, passed down from my parents: The Lord of the Rings.

The ability to dive into a story that is not our own, experience places we’ve never been to, and see the world through the eyes of people who exist entirely in our imagination is one of our most profoundly human tenets, and a great source of wonder and enjoyment to many, if not most of us.

For me, at least, immersion in the lands of imagination is one of my favourite things in life. There are many authors and creators whose work has helped me get through difficult times in my life. I do not know how to find the words to sufficiently express my gratitude to them.

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Home isn’t a home for me without bookshelves

Good stories have been in high demand for me in the past few months. I’ve recently revisited two stories that have made me laugh and cry and wonder. They have transported me to places where I’ve found room to breathe, away from my other concerns. As thanks, I’d like to give some love to: The Expanse and Lucifer.

The expanding universe and humanity’s place in it

the expanseThe Expanse does a remarkable job of reflecting on how changes in the availability of resources and leaps in technological possibilities, coupled with both human ingenuity, stupidity, and basic psychology, can affect the direction and development of our societies. It works its way through an astounding number of game-changing moments, where the rules and ideas that applied before are turned on their heads and discarded, as advances and catastrophes both natural, man-made, and alien; unintentional and intentional; in turn expand and transform the horizons of a group, a city, a colony, a planet, or the entire humankind. They beautifully lay out complex moments of humanity changing the story of themselves.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through the series a second time, seeing many things in a different light. The scopes widen and the world changes with each book, meanwhile the very human way of looking at all the players show a variety of very human impulses existing in unique mixes in every character, and how these impulses can help create both peace, war, destruction, and hope. Big hat-tip to the two-writer team.

But, *biologist grumbling alert*: there’s one nitpick I’d like to make concerning a type of repeat comment on ‘belters’ (people born and raised as cheap labour-force in low gravity conditions out in the asteroid belt) that comes up in different forms throughout the series. The belters are described as being very meticulous about safety precautions, checking and re-checking environmental systems, because, as they put it, sloppiness has “been weeded out of the gene pool fast.”

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Changes in the gene pool are slow. Evolution of new mammal species takes millions of years.

Now, a few generations is an extremely short time for any actual evolutionary change of ‘weeding out’ phenotypes to happen (it is generally very slow). The genetic components that influence cognitive characteristics like conscientiousness are far from simple, and a few generations with a fraction of belters dying would not much diminish that kind of genetic variety in the population. Very meticulous careful type of a person can have many reckless children. A few reckless people dying does not stop new children from being born who could grow up to be careless.

This is partly because of the existence of broad genetic variation, and partly because these kind of mental characteristics have a lot to do with learning and training. This brings me to an effect that can change dramatically from one generation to the next, and can have a huge impact in behaviour: culture. Sloppiness has been meticulously weeded out through their upbringing and their prominent safety culture. NOT from the gene pool. In fact, it has a lot more to do with the stories they tell each other about the fragility of life in outer space, and which teach them the value in keeping their technology in working order. *Biologist grumbling out*

And now for something completely different…

What about story number two, of Lucifer? Although plot-wise I prefer the starkly different comic about the same character (written by Mike Carey, originally from Gaiman’s Sandman) which I read through in its entirety in one week, the one I’ve binged now is the TV-series.

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Lucifer and Lucifer

By the way, YAY for Netflix swooping in to #SaveLucifer! The cast seem to have a blast making the show, and their happiness over the Twitter campaign and about getting to continue was touching to hear.

I don’t have many deep reflections to offer here. It’s a supernatural police procedural show with playful relationships, themes of redemption, and lewd humour, and it makes me laugh. And I might just have a thing for the devil.  Hey, who wouldn’t? Tom Ellis does a fantabulous job in the role – he’s a perfect mix of self-absorbed, silly, saucy, serious, sincere, and lovable. He sings too. Swoon.

That’s all I wanted to say right now. Thank you, people everywhere who pour your hearts out into creating beautiful stories for us to go and live in. Our lives are so much richer thanks to them.

Please feel free to share some love for your favourite stories in the comments!

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More about my fictions here, including one of my favourite quotes from Daniel Dennett on origins of selves – the idea about centre of narrative gravity.

About Thoughtscapism

Cell Biologist, volunteer science communicator, and fiction writer.
This entry was posted in literature, meta, psychology, society and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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