Thor and the Scientist

Thor, god of thunder, was one of my favorite heroes in mythology as a very young child. Something about the tremendous power of thunder and the mysterious workings of the sky truly fascinated me.

Awkward, wanting to identify with Thor, as I was a little girl. I just didn’t find very many female mythological heroines as appealing. I’m trying to think of one. But I can’t. I was forever trying to pick up my father’s sledge hammer. Of course I couldn’t.

I recently went to see the movie Thor, based on the Norse myth and the Marvel Comics. It wasn’t because Natalie Portman was in it, one of my favorite younger actors. It wasn’t because as one of the main characters, she plays a scientist. No, it was because I just had to see Thor. I could not help myself. And I loved it.

They got the scientist right, I can say from personal experience. I also was distracted, a poor housekeeper, underweight, a person who probably even forgot to eat and was overly attached to her work when I was in my twenties. But while watching the movie now, I still just wanted to be Thor rather than the scientist.

My absolute favorite scene was when the lovely Chris Hemsworth (Thor) sits alone under the stars with Natalie Portman (scientist) and draws the heavens and the connections between the different universes for her as an illustration.

He says something quite beautiful to her, “your ancestors called it magic, you call it science, I come from a place where they are one and the same”.

There was a simple peace in that moment of the film. It didn’t have to be magic vs science, myth vs reality, religion vs physics. They were one and the same. And the feeling in that scene spoke to me as a scientist with a long history of loving myth. All these ways of describing our human experience within the unknowable can have some kind of unity, and don’t have to be in opposition to one another.

I love science, but not religiously. I’m a scientist who observes the reports of science with interest, but without blind belief. So much of the world is unknown to us due to the limitations of our senses. Science is no exception, and each of our scientific tools has inherent limitations as well. Science is a language we’ve invented, math, chemistry, physics are all languages of symbols we’ve created–each an attempt to describe what we detect around us using human terms. We have such profound limitations in all of this.

I think of the scientist as standing before a vast stage that is covered by a thick black velvet curtain and behind that curtain is the mystery of reality. We stand there with all of humanity, limited by our senses, and we pull back the corner of the curtain just a little bit. To me, this is what science does. It would take another field of study, and perhaps another plane of consciousness to unlock the mystery and get to see the whole show. In Thor, the movie, the heavens are shown in this light. While the humans see only the sky, Thor sees other worlds within the sky.

Art and science both in some way worship a mystery.

As physicist Albert Einstein wrote:

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms-it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” –Einstein in “The World as I See it” 1999.

What do you think, is there a place here where magic, myth and science can be one and the same?

19 thoughts on “Thor and the Scientist

  1. I went with my son and loved Thor. But then I am a fan of all magic, myth and science and some fantasy.

    Is there a place here where magic, myth and science can be one and the same? ⤵

    “And he who wields white wild magic gold is a paradox – for he is everything and nothing, hero and fool, potent, helpless – and with one word of truth or treachery he will save or damn the Earth because he is mad and sane, cold and passionate, lost and found.”

    -The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

    Is there a place here ? Here being earth, or our minds. Perhaps it is what we call our subconscious and perhaps someday when we understand ourselves better it may be called by another name.

    For now we have to make do with what Science can tell us, what we perceive as individuals and experience in our lives, our dreams that perplex us and many other mental facets that make us who we are. Science has always had a monumental task, perhaps it has started to enter a new chapter for humankind, as machines such as the fMRI become more common, and more scientists observe and experiment on the human brain, will they discover what they have no words for. Will the first revelations that come have to be called magic ?

    We Humans do not like what we cannot name or understand, many without faith look to science for answers and find something that allows them to see what they want to see, happy that they have words to put to something that they did not understand before.

    Not so long ago we listened to science and were ok with jamming an ice pick into a living persons brain, calling it a surgical procedure. We believed science understood our brains and went along with such terms (words), as retarded, or labeled people mad when they said they felt pain in a limb that they no longer had(a phantom limb). We even had the amazing scientific discovery that the brain was hard wired, Oops !!

    You have to love science and the paradox of it. Is science the white gold to magic?
    Magic as the dictionary describes it: ‘The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces’ or ‘originally denoting a statement contrary to accepted opinion’

    If science had not ‘understood’ (ha ha) that the brain has plasticity, then when a person born with only half a brain managed to do things that science told us was impossible before (brain being hard wired), what would have been said then. It’s magic ?

    So is there a place here where magic, myth and science can be one and the same? Is this a question that can be answered, or explained by science.

    Or is this place in all of us, for all of us to find within ourselves and call it what we want; magic, myth, faith. Perhaps it is where you believe it to be.

    Reply
  2. Well, you made me want to go see THOR.
    I’m particularly interested in the scientist aspect. That they “got it right” sounds intriguing.

    I like to peek behind the curtain and dream with my eyes wide open.

    Reply
    • Hi Jim, thanks for visiting the blog and joining the discussion. Dreaming with eyes wide open sounds like a great way to approach life. I’ve read that scientist author Oliver Sacks says “Waking consciousness is dreaming-but dreaming constrained by external reality.” Who can say which is which, waking and dreaming, for sure?

      Reply
  3. Science does not need to be in conflict with religion.

    As some great folks have said, and I paraphrase “whenever possible, religion has to stand the test of science and rationality – all else is perhaps just superstition”. Also, one of my favorite authors has said “I would rather all of you be rank atheists than superstitious fools!”

    So, go ahead, be a skeptic if you need to be. We all have our journeys to make and paths to take to arrive at our destination :-)

    Namaste!

    Reply
  4. I grew up most of my life in America, and I never really got into Superman, Spiderman and the other superheroes, except for Thor. He was my favorite. Something about his hammer made Captain America’s shield, Wonderwoman’s lasso and Spidey’s web seem inferior. Regarding the star gazing scene comments, my ancestors (Igorots from the Philippines) would not have called “it” magic. Rather, they probably viewed it as the origin of their one pagan god. Their magical world was a spirit world that existed all around them throughout the mountains. Today, modern Igorots use science and religion (particularly Christianity) to dismiss superstitious beliefs of the past. I personally think Thor has a point, in that the unseen realm possesses a kind of unity we humans only dream about.

    Reply
    • The Igorot perspective you share is so interesting, thank you. Dismissing beliefs is a dangerous and unfortunate business for the individual and for the culture. I wish I had better ties to my roots, but like many in the US most of them are lost to me and my own elders passed away or out of reach. I am looking forward to your book that I think includes Igorot history, when is it coming out to the public?

      Reply
  5. I understand you even though Thor has never been part of my cultural background (my childhood hero was called Grendizer a japaneze cartoon robot ) :-)
    To answer your question, well unfortunately in our modern age, scientists are asked to answer only the how ? question …While long time ago, they were supposed to also think of the why question. That is why learned people were geniuses in physics, chemistry, mathematics, as well as in philosophy, theology and even poetry…Knowledge is a holistic vision and understanding of the world …not bits and pieces of atoms and molecules in an isolated laboratory…

    Reply
    • Bent Aljazair thanks for the great observation. Where have all the scientist philosophers gone? A bit of both are helpful in education for balance, and for personal growth. Science without ethics becomes strictly technical, and in my experience, also frightening.

      Reply

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