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Science of Fantasy Literature

Last night I watched Andrew Denton's interview of Richard Dawkins in Denton's Elders series. At age 68, Dawkins looks back at a long history of promoting a scientific approach to life, and of criticising religion as non-scientific and something we would all be best rid of.

While it is interesting that Dawkins apparently had a "devout" period in his teens in Kenya, it is not religion per se that I am raising in this issue. it is rather the narrow view of science that Dawkins appears to espouse. This was highlighted by a number of points during the interview, including his response to fairy tales and fantasy literature as "invalid and wrong", and even his characterising of the Santa Claus tradition as parental lying to their children.

It seems to me that a scientific approach should be founded on:

  • An open inquiring mind and a thirst to understand and attribute meaning to the world one experiences (is this different to evidence?)
  • A humility to accept that any construction of a "story" that attempts to give meaning or understanding to the world we experience is provisional and evolving
  • An acceptance that being part of a community involves the articulation and shared ownership of this story and the activities that lie beneath it

The interesting thing is that I suspect that Dawkins would agree with this, but somehow we then seem to part company...

The world we experience is not limited to the inorganic and non-human species. In the case of humanity it is not limited to anatomy or medecine. Its purview needs to embrace all of humanity including the existence of the human arts and a host of other human present and historical activities. One such manifestation is fantasy literature.

It seems to me that the scientific approach here (as anywhere) is to seek to understand the phenomena - to treat as evidence the existence, the forms and the changes over time of this part of the world we experience and develop hypotheses to seek to explain them. In this way we can better understand this part of the world we experience - and contribute to a better, more integrated understanding of this world as a whole.

Dawkins' apparent approach to dismissing this part of the world, this "evidence", as invalid or almost embarrassing seems remarkably unscientific to me.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:40

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