When asked what she wanted do with her life, my cousin said she wanted to help people tell her stories. She loves stories. She wants a job where she can help more stories get out into the world. She’s thinking of maybe trying to get in job in publishing or some sort of media.
My world is made of stories. Stories that piece together things from before I have memories and from before I was around to make memories. Stories of my family, of my parents, of my grandparents. Stories from distant lands and stories from nearby.
I consumed them wholeheartedly, indiscriminately. All types of stories were open to me. Space travel and magic and dragons. Talking animals and every day people just living their life. Articles in the newspaper, National Geographic, the Economist, Time. Before school every day in middle school, I read the newspaper cover to cover.
Any world, any stories, I would read.
Then I got to high school, and something happened to the stories. It wasn’t enough anymore to know the stories. To learn and to love and look at the details. To play with the beautiful words. To go explore new worlds and new people. They had to be analyzed.
And while analysis can fully and properly improve the stories, it can be a killer of stories. Analysis can tie things together and can reveal the strings. It can reveal hidden patterns. It can clarify. But mostly it destroyed the stories.
It had to be written, and the way it had to be written was so that you presented options as facts. And that was misleading and incorrect. And lies. And I was not prepared to write lies.
And the way I saw stories, the way the colors and the feelings and thought and ideas and the way the stories all played out in my mind, the logical connections which could not be explained in words, but just were, the same way that the sky is blue (and how most people know this, but they also can’t explain it), the way the stories all connected, were wrong. If they couldn’t be stated as fact in words in double-spaced Times New Roman size 12 font in essay with 1 inch margins, they were wrong. If I couldn’t state ideas as fact, opinions as fact, undoing the years we spent learning the differences, the ideas of logical discourse, then it was wrong.
The first paper I wrote about how mockingbirds kill other birds children failed because the facts were deemed wrong. It didn’t matter that I’d seen it happen, that it was something I’ve known all my life, that I was probably the only person in that classroom who could could pick out a mockingbird, who knew where they nested. The idea that something I had known all my life was not common knowledge failed me. I cried the whole class I got that paper back, quietly at my desk, unwillingly because I was in public and this was not supposed to happen.
And so I began to push back from the stories. I had learned, and this lesson was reminded with every tear-filled night of screaming that I wouldn’t write lies every time a paper was due, with my mother trying to explain that it wasn’t lies. But I knew the difference. I would not state opinion as fact. There is a difference and I would respect it.
English class, which was full of stories, stories that I adored, which made my life worthwhile, began to be my least favorite, my most disliked. Because it was illogical, and I was expected to know this illogical approach, and accept it and learn it. Stories were no longer safe. The girl who still read at least a book everyday no longer looked forward to a class dedicated to stories.
And so I began to specialize.
And there were science classes. Real honest science classes. And they were precise. It never asked you to lie. You suggested things and supported hypotheses. Data indicated that something happened. Nothing could be proved. It was exact and honest.
I was finally in a math class where I learned something new. It still moved rather slowly, with lots of reviewing, but there were proofs and beautiful fun patterns and numbers. And the beauty of math was that it could be proved. It could fit perfectly in the boxes. Everything was clearly stated and it was honest.
And so I pulled away from the lies that were expected of me in English, but never from the stories. would still read and reread complete books daily. The stories were honest, the analysis was not.
Science gave me a new family of stories to study. It gave me a process for finding stories about the universe. Those strange, beautiful, unimagineable stories of how we were formed and how we work. The world is built on stories. I always knew the world was built on stories.
The stories in books are still there. I still consume them lovingly and copiously, and now that I have left all formal education that requires me to analyze literature, they are free. They are beautiful. But the world also has stories, beautiful strange amazing stories. Connecting and ideas. They let you see the strings and the connections. But the stories in people are hidden, and people are often not amenable to processes designed to reveal them. There is a secret code, a way to analyze there, written in a way I do not understand.
Science tells us so many amazing stories.
There is a sea anemone that lives upside down in the bottom of ice sheets. The genetic code is so incredibly conserved and you can swap genes between species and they are still functional. We know how many cells C. elegans has (959), and the lineage of each cell. Planarians can pretty much regenerate from anything. There’s that new paper floating around which I haven’t had time to look at in detail that claims you can create stem cells by bathing cells in acid. In the first twentyfour hours, a zebrafish goes from a single cell to a mini-fishy. Watch it. It’s incredible.
And there are so many more amazing stories out there.
And science comes with a process for uncovering more.
And that is why I am a scientist.