Science is about stories. Really. Without diving into Campbellian mumbo-jumbo, or pulling a Barth, we construct stories to help us figure out the universe. And so here is a story I tell my Freshman science class, my PCP’s, the ones with the revolving labels.
My clan comes from west Ireland, where folks still speak Gaelic and live under thatched roofs. (For those of you who know me, remember, this is a story—the truth matters more than the facts). My clan is dark, we are black Irish. And (shhhh…) we have travelers among us, gypsies, Romani….
Now at this point, the class is a little skeptical. I point out my nose—way too big for the classic Irish look. My skin is dark in September, hardly the fair stereotype of leprechauns. (“You're a brother?” “We’re all brothers—but yeah, black Irish.”)
By now the class is hooked. Hey, it’s science class, and I’ve taken them back to storytime. Kids love storytime. They’re ready to break out their blankies. So back to our story.
My great-grandmother would tell us about a mystical force, a powerful force, called savallah!. We are all connected by this pull. All of us are pulled towards one another, indeed, pulled to all the objects in the universe. The moon, the sun, the farthest planets, indeed the farthest star the eye can see on moonless night all exert a force on us. Savallah!
It helps if you say the word a bit louder with some vague foreign accent (mine sounds Indian, it’s the best I can do). A few look skeptical. I carry on:
The closer two things are, the stronger the force…savallah! The larger the objects, the stronger the force…savallah!
By now I’m practically spitting the word, my eyes wide. A few students look nervous. I’d like to believe they fear this mysterious force, but more likely they fear their teacher has lost it, and they’re not sure what to do.
I then break out of character, resume my Authentic Teaching Voice©, and ask the class if they believe savallah! exists. Of course not, it’s ridiculous, this is America, only peasants come up with ridiculous ideas like that. A few may even have grandparents at home who still chatter on about similar nonsense.
I ask how many “believe in” gravity. All hands go up.
And then I substitute gravity for savallah!. And they’re hooked. I tell them to go home and share the myth. When I get that phone call, I know they did.