“Physical vision – one might say scientific vision – brings about a metaphysical shift in the observer’s view of reality as a whole. The geography of the earth, or the structure of the solar system, are in an instant utterly changed, and forever. The explorer, the scientific observer, the literary reader, experience the Sublime: a moment of revelation into the idea of the unbounded, the infinite.” Richard Holmes. The Age of Wonder: How the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science.
This week I had one of the most wonderful teaching experiences of my life. The lesson was already something I was excited about as it was a subject who’s discovery changed my own life in high school.
It was last period on a Friday and the lesson was for a group of year 8 students. Tired and fidgety at this time my 14 year old’s struggled to even look at me as they found their seats.
I began by writing the world ‘Mythology’ on the board and opened up the discussion as always to establish what their knowledge on the matter was before I launched in. This is always an interesting time for teachers as it can either make or break the lesson.
At first it looked like things weren’t going to go well as no one offered a response.
…and then one person did.
‘Does that have something to do with that show Myth busters?’
In my planning I hadn’t even thought of this show but at the moment this young boy mentioned it I realised how far we could go in this conversation, that indeed it couldn’t have started at a better place.
I asked the student ‘Can you tell us what Myth busters is all about?’
‘They try and find out if things are true or false’.
I drew a line from the word mythology, wrote Myth busters and underneath I simply wrote true or false?
Another hand hungrily rose to the air.
‘Miss Ellis what about the Lochness monster? Is that a myth?
‘Why could the Lochness monster be a myth…?’
‘Well because we don’t know if it’s true or false or not’.
There was an eruption of voices suddenly with people debating whether it was true or false. Some people had heard stories about actual sitings, others started talking to their friends about myths they’d heard. We wrote these on the board, each time wonder-ing if they were myths …because we couldn’t decide if they were true or false.
I then put another question to the class:
‘In the Viking era, was the internet around?’
A chorus of ‘noooooooooooo’s’
‘Did they have fancy labs to test things out?’
Another wonder-full chorus of ‘nooooooooooo’s’
‘So how do we think the Vikings made sense of the world they lived in?’
One girl simply put her finger to her head. I elicited what she meant by it and she replied ‘Their minds, they had to think of things…’
Another student put his hand up and said ‘Their imaginations. They needed to use their imaginations’.
…and a final student said ‘Maybe they used what they could actually see like nature’.
Drawing from these ideas I provided a definition of Mythology, with each sentence looking at these three wonder-full students who had offered these last ideas:
Myths are stories created by people, often using nature, to answer human beings big, important questions such as why the seasons change, how the world came to be and what is our purpose.
There was silence and then one more hand went up.
‘But are they true or false?’
I let the silence hang for a little while longer until one voice in the back row spoke up…
‘Miss Ellis I don’t know if they’re true or false or not but I’m starting to think that they might have been pretty important’.
Just try and imagine how big my grin was at this moment.
Mythology just like all stories are indeed important. Whether they are told through the medium of film, documentaries, books, comics, newspapers or from the mouths of people, young or old, they tell the stories of our time here. A moment, a day, a month, a year of our conquests, thoughts and reasonings.
Every story imparts a wisdom, an insight into the lives we lead. They hold our question marks over the things we face and our eventual reasoning for the choices we make.
Sharing these stories is indeed important because through them we provide others with pieces of the puzzle, the human experience puzzle; and just like evolution tells us, these reasonings and perhaps eventual understandings provides continuation, a movement forward for ourselves as individuals and others whom we may share them with.
The Vikings found a sense of belonging and understanding through their Mythology, a connection to spirit and the earth and sea of which they relied upon for the movement of their culture.
The Romantics of the Romantic era back in 1769 found a Mythology in the stars they looked up at at night, created poems and stories about the Universe to explore their experience of being human; and as Ricard Holmes suggests in his book ‘The Age of Wonder’, these ponderings paved the way for scientists to test and trial and solve the very questions the Romantics were asking
I have to pause and love this just a little. That Science may very well have been inspired by poets. That no matter what path we take to solve our fundamental questions, the fact that we all have them unites us.
Wonder. Meant …that we may not all be scientists, we may not all have resources to answer our fundamental questions, but we all have experiences and ideas that can become an important part of our truth. And because we are human, our story might find a place in the hearts of others.