Down to a Science

Fashion_1Art can be weird. But weird always has rules. Fact can be cold, but it unlocks our wonder.

Some things are subjective: they’re really in the eye of the beholder. Some people wear bright pink hats, but I don’t. Fashion can be weird and people like me don’t often get it. To be honest, I don’t think most people do, regardless of what they choose to wear. But when you hear fashion designers talk about style they stand out from the average person because when they describe what they like and dislike they are able to describe why, and they do it in objective terms. Where most people would feel their way through options on a clothing wrack, style professionals understand why certain cuts, colors, patterns, and shapes (or “silhouettes” to use their term) work or don’t work. Clothing is for them an art, but for the person who really understands an art it begins to border on science. Any art at the highest level of expertise begins to arc away from the realm of the subjective into the land of fact.

The reverse is true as well. Areas that deal in hard facts  will stay in that realm at lower levels. No high school or college physics students are encouraged to discover, only to learn (even if a well-meaning educational culture uses the terms interchangeably). But no professional scientist ever became famous for getting all their facts down correctly and acing their exams. Memorizing information doesn’t excite anyone. Those who are highly skilled in their fact-based craft are able to cross over into the subjective. They discover, conjecture, invent, guess, wonder. The invent new theories to describe things and speculate about what may likely be, even if it is just beyond reach. Science done exceptionally well borders on art.

We are often surprised by our own fascination with facts. We say things like, “You can’t make this stuff up!” and “Truth is stranger than fiction.” But the reality is that you can make this stuff up and fiction will always be stranger than reality. But it’s not really the strangeness that so intrigues us as it is the truth of an event. Why do we lap up “true crime” stories and listen with greater intent to a speaker talking about their own life rather than someone telling a story they made up? It is not because truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is almost by definition stranger and there will always be a market for fantasy stories. But fact is almost by definition more fascinating. We may be entertained and even transported by pure fiction but fascination requires facts.

I am never satisfied by unfinished stories. I want to know if those two characters got married, if that person survived the rest of his journey. When I’m forced to speculate at fiction I never find it really fulfilling. But to speculate at facts is much more intriguing: What happened to the settlers of Roanoke Colony? Is Bigfoot real? How did the Easter Island Heads get there? We enjoy wondering about the truth.

We need both fact and fiction. Fact would be no fun without a little touch of wonder. Pure imagination wouldn’t come alive without some grounding in fact. I can’t help but to think that when God designed into us a hunger for truth and a sense of wonder He wove them from the same cloth, making imagination a door to truth; fact a window to wonder.