We had quite a showdown this past weekend.
In one corner, we have "Gravity," a stunning 3D spectacle exploring the perils of humanity in space, which set records as the strongest October opening ever. It received a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and has singlehandedly reversed the trend of 3D-hate in cinema.
Fighting against "Gravity" is 'science,' represented by internet-darling Neil deGrasse Tyson, who ranted against the film via Twitter all weekend in a series called "Mysteries of Gravity."
Here's a couple:
"Mysteries of Gravity: Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east yet all satellite debris portrayed orbited east to west." And, "Mysteries of Gravity: Why Bullock's hair, in otherwise convincing zero-G sequences, did not float freely on her head."
The best, most cutting criticism was this: "Mysteries of Gravity: why we enjoy a SciFi film set in make-believe space more than we enjoy actual people set in real space."
Following harsh cuts to NASA spending and more science tragedy in this current shutdown, the question is at the heart of many thinkers and educators: why do we like watching science, but not science itself?
Why is reality consistently overshadowed by story?
As someone who studies and loves philosophy and economics, I love to argue. I love facts. Thus, I've been confused by this story-over-argument phenomenon. That was until my friend told me a story.
Her dad, who owns commercial real estate, grew up in the South. He never felt comfortable around other races and was pretty much racist. Then he started renting to a Hispanic family who ran a grocery store, and they were the best renters he ever had. This changed him, and he no longer holds prejudice against Hispanics.
What may seem just another guilty anecdote about a white man getting unstuck from his backwards ways cuts to a sharper point; argument did not change her dad's mind. What convinced him was a story. It was his own story.
Every time we learn something, it's a story. Whether we're becoming more accepting of other races, or changing our minds politically, or even making some scientific discovery, this is our story. We start out in some way, then some plot action happens, and we become someone else — we learn something.
In fact, story makes us human. We can't help but view ourselves as the protagonist of our own stories. Our memories and plans and senses meld together into an unavoidably self-centered narrative.
When you tell your friends what happened that one time at prom, or why your day isn't going well, you tell a story. When you reach back into memory to remember where you left your keys, you see a story.
And somehow, when we hear other stories, our own narrative disappears. We slip into another protagonist's perspective to feel, think and learn like they do.
When we melt into the world of Gravity, we, in a monumental way, lose ourselves.
That's what makes them so important to hear, watch and tell. Facts confront you through your perspective; stories replace that perspective.
So, what I'd say to Neil deGrasse Tyson is this: try a different story. Think about the thousands of 13-year-olds, sitting between their parents in a dark theater, transported into space for 91 minutes. They don't care which direction debris should orbit, or zero-G hair. They care about space, and will go home and spend hours learning about orbits and gravity because, thanks to a story, they love "science" now.
Think about the millions of people, including myself, who are reminded this weekend of the value of conserving our planet, or the smallness of one person in the vastness of space. Sure, maybe we could have spouted statistics and scientific papers, and elicited a few responses of "wow" and "I didn't know that."
But then we would have been left in our own minds, our feet on the ground. That brings us no closer to NASA funding, or better public scientific knowledge. If we want to get people more involved with their universe, and to fall in love with science, we have to start telling great stories about it, unrealistic hair or not.
Evan Ford is a junior in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.