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April 14, 2015


Exploratory Workshop on Narrative in Science


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Elisabeth Dumont, Hans U. Fuchs, with support by Federico Corni

Institute of Applied Mathematics and Physics

Zurich University of Applied Sciences at Winterthur, Switzerland

September 2014

We propose to hold an Exploratory Workshop in Switzerland for investigating and defining a research agenda of a Center for Narrative in Science. This center is to be created as part of a proposed EU project (Narrative in Science Communication and Technical Education). It will be the research arm of an initiative directed at developing modern education and training of the coming generations in industrial and related settings. The workshop aims at bringing together leading experts from fields as diverse as cognitive science, anthropology, economics, developmental psychology, science and engineering education, history of science, and linguistics and narratology.

We all accept that stories engage us affectively. However, recent developments in the study of narrative in science and engineering education—and in science itself—suggest that its role in these fields goes much deeper than is commonly assumed. Modern cognitive science tells us that there is a strong relation between emotion and reason—affect prepares us for the messages of a story that may well contain formally cognitive aspects in addition to the affective ones. Moreover, since the use of models is a narrative act, storytelling is an element of scientific method. Finally, it turns out that the products of science themselves—concepts, models, and theories—have narrative form; they are the products of a narrative mind.

The goal of the workshop will be to weigh the import of these different levels of narrative in science and to propose an agenda for research to be conducted at the Center for Narrative Studies in Science that leads to both fundamental understanding of the issue and applications for society. We want to research the relationship between mind, nature, and cultural products (science and engineering) and at the same time sketch a path toward application in science and engineering communication and education. The latter is assumed to be fundamentally important for sustaining technical culture in highly developed societies and to foster such culture in developing ones.

To date, members of the core team who are proposing the EU project have been performing research and development in the following areas: cognitive science (theories of the embodied mind relating to experience of natural and technical phenomena); cognitive linguistics, metaphor theory, and analogy (figures of mind in physics); the relation between science and a narrative mind; teacher education; modern continuum physics; energy engineering; studies of the conceptual structure of macroscopic physical science; education of engineering students in physical science and systems science; pedagogy of modeling and simulation; designing and building of Industrial Educational Labs (Ducati in Bologna and VW in Wolfsburg); science and art (visual metaphors); didactics of engineering in Maker Spaces; and more. This enables us to draw upon a wide range of expertise and to propose research that brings together the important and necessary fields contributing to an understanding of the role of narrative in science and engineering.

Researchers to be invited to the Exploratory Workshop have done leading edge research in fields ranging from the narrativity of simulation in the sciences; to storytelling and modeling in economics; history of science; the role of abstraction in child development and in folk science; narratology and cognitive science; conceptual metaphor and embodied cognition in science; science education; to anthropology and the notion of agency in science. We are confident that a rigorous discussion with these experts will help us to establish fundamental and applied research in an area that still lacks solid models and theories of the relation between the human mind and understanding of nature and technical artifacts.