Friday, September 28, 2007

The Plot Thickens

This semester, while lecturing on (okay, giving the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of…) Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, I realized that what I was actually teaching that night was basic story plot structure. Deja-vu, deconstructing short stories in the Intro to Lit classes I used to teach. Kuhn’s work dispels the notion that most revolutionary scientific discoveries happen by chance or are the solitary personal discoveries made by a few stark geniuses. Rather, it is when old paradigms reach a point of crisis, that new paradigms are born.

This sounds like the classic “Cops and Robbers” plot line that I always used to illustrate story development in English 1B. There are the cops, keepers of the law—the scientists who support and purport the established paradigm. There are robbers—those radicals with the newfangled ideas and interpretations—the lawbreakers. As evidence mounts to break down the old paradigm, tension builds. Tension is the difference between what seems to be true and actual reality. In the Cops ‘n Robbers storyline, the chase exists because of the tension between the truth of the crime, and the reality of the criminals not being caught. In science, the plot is driven by the conflict between old and new ideas and the quest to determine validity.

In every story, tension builds to a point of crisis. In science, the crisis reaches its climax when enough new evidence is gathered to disprove the current paradigm. When the paradigm shift occurs, the old ideas are overthrown and the rest is all dénouement. In television land, the cops always capture the robbers, but in science, the twist is that the crime is always a one of passion and in the end, the jury sides with the defendants at the trial.

Next semester in Geol 1, we’ll be drawing that “inverted checkmark” to describe the shift from the view of earth as static to dynamic. The concept of Continental Drift will provide tension and drive the plot toward the shift to Plate Tectonics. But we’ll also take plot summary further. We’ll look at the rock cycle, stream systems, faults and deformation as stories of conflict between equilibrium and disequilibrium. We’ll trace the rise in tension as erosion exposes shy plutons, while weathering and isostatic rebound force the massive rocks to divulge their long kept secrets. There are so many good tales. Some stories are about marriages and/or dissolutions. Some describe crumbling or melting under pressure, then being born again. Still others chronicle the adjustments and ability to overcome repeated change. Each tale offers a detailed biography of a portion of the physical earth. Every rock (the broken record in me keeps repeating to my class) has a story to tell.

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