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.

photo from http://www.solarnavigator.net/lightning.htm

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 love this post! Especially your analogy of the stage and the curtain and pulling it partly away. And especially the Einstein quote! 🙂 I enjoyed Thor as well. But your ideas make it even better!

    1. Sophia thank you for the encouragement and feedback. Don’t you ever just want to pull the curtain back? It happens to me every time I’m at the theater. I behave myself of course, but the impulse is there! I’m happy you enjoyed the Einstein quote too.

  2. Religions and myths developed before humans were capable of much of what we consider science today. But now that we are capable of so much science it often proves what was only intuited by some of the great mystics prior. Physics, in particular, often mirrors a reality hinted at by Buddhism.
    Jochim, The Tao of Physics is an awesome book.

    1. Yes, also the Dalai Lama’s “The Universe in a Single Atom” shares some lovely insights on similarities between physics and Tibetan Buddhism, a great book. I’ll look for Tao of Physics. Thanks Cynthia for sharing your insights here.

  3. Have you read anything by Peter Kingsley? I have read In the Dark Places of Wisdom, and am now deep into Reality; not as lovely as Thor, perhaps, but I think you might find it interesting.

    1. Robin what a coincidence about Thor and science. It must be a link in the storytelling tradition. I did see the story too at your site and look forward to reading the work soon. My Dad’s family came to NYC from Denmark, but I didn’t know any of the elders. So I especially treasured stories like those of Beowulf and Thor. When is your book coming out?

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