When the ‘Better’ Story Isn’t

In my last post, I laid out the case from The Life of Pi that given the choice between two explanatory stories – neither of which we can prove conclusively to be correct — we should choose the better story. We should choose the one that inspires us and sustains us through times of hardship and promotes kindness.

There’s a counter argument. I came across it on Edge.org and it’s a critique of imagination, which might be thought of as the well spring of better stories. It was written by theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli

Many say today that, after all, there are no “good ideas” and “bad ideas”. All ideas can be good. I hear this in philosophy departments, from very smart colleagues:  “every idea is right in its own context”; or “everything is better than lack of creativity”. …

To a large extent, we live in narrations we weave ourselves. So, why not just go for the sweetest of these? After we have freed ourselves from the close-mindedness of the past, why not feel free? We can create enchanting explanations, images of ourselves, of our own great country, of our great society. We can be fascinated by our own dreams.

Vimal R. photo of the sun seen through a piece of glass

A shard of glass can capture the sun (but don’t step on it) Courtesy of Vimal R. via Flickr

But something tells me we should worry. We live inside a real world, where not all the stories are equally good, equally effective. One dream out of many is the good one. Few explanations are the correct ones. …

Scientific intelligence met the triumphs that have lead us here by positing theories and by being extraordinarily suspicious about its own products. My worry is that we are going overboard with our contemporary fascination with imagination, and, in so doing, we risk losing track of the harsh independence of the world from the weakness of our minds.

Does Rovelli have a point? Is imagination too much in vogue these days? Is it the opiate of intellectuals that fills them with warm feelings at the price of seeing what is in front their noses?



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