The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Entertaining Ideas: Barbara Knott

Science Meets Soul in Metaphor

My impulse was to list this title as BREAKING NEWS. Instead of "breaking news," with which we are bombarded every waking hour, suppose we had an outlet for slow, thoughtful, soulful, meaningful, mysterious news containing at least one insight, epiphany, or revelation. Then we might not always find ourselves following reporters toward disappointment and dismay or, full of contempt, smirking at how right that is! Or how wrong! according to our fixed political sentiments. Suppose we got wind of something OLD threatening to captivate or compel our attention. I am talking about old ideas and images that need to be looked at freshly. What if a Nobel prize could be offered to a scientist or poet who successfully bridges the gap between science and soul? Here is one nomination.

Listen to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust ....

... what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?

The man has soul! He calls it personality. I call his riff on stardust a soulful statement from a physicist whose popularity resounds with imaginative improvisations, though he keeps the drumbeat of scientific thought fully audible. In browsing his quotations online, I found something else that caught my eye, for a reason you will recognize:

One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview--not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases ... but people prefer reassurance to research.

Lest it appear to you that he is attacking our grapevine here, let me point out that he is using a metaphor (grapevine) to describe a mode of receiving and passing information along without adequate thinking (ideas received but not examined). Much of what we read and hear travels along the surface of thought like a grapevine shooting along a fence while hiding its metaphorical roots that need to be uncovered in individual efforts to entertain fresh ideas and images. Research based on intuition and imagination is at least of equal value to research based on reason, but I am grateful to hear what Tyson says about humans literally being stardust. Curious as it may seem in a world where we tend to focus on dualisms, here is an instance in which the literal and figurative come together in an exciting way. Figuratively, we have been in love with stars for centuries, and now scientifically, we can say we are made of stardust, that the universe lives in all of us.

One of our research experiments in this journal will be to find places and rhythms where soul and body, the imaginal and the actual, intuition and reason, art and life, individuality and community meet and for a time, however briefly, overlap to make the almond shape called mandorla (Italian word for almond) that occurs when two circles join. This is the place of stardust, which is not either/or; it is both literal and figurative. Metaphor is a place where mystery abounds, where "truth" becomes relative and multiple, where there are no absolutes, where science meets soul.


Neil deGrasseTyson quotations online, whose sources include references to his many public appearances and oral presentations.

Website: Tyson at Hayden Planetarium

Tyson on Religion

Top Scientists on God

Copyright 2014, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.