Science and stories are not only compatible, they're inseparable, as shown by Einstein's classic 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect
The Story Is in the Theory
All theories tell a story. They have a beginning, in which people
and ideas, models, molecules and governing equations take the stage.
Their roles are defined; there is a puzzle to solve. Einstein sets
his characters into motion so ingeniously, using entropy to tease
out the parallels between moving molecules and the energy of light.
The story develops; there are consequences of Einstein's approach.
And at the end, his view of light as quantized and particular
confronts the reality of the heretofore unexplained photoelectric
effect. The postscripted future, of all else that can be understood
and all new things that can be made, is implicit.
Perceptive reader Anne Poduska notes that the photoelectric paper
"is particularly interesting because of the layering of
perspectives (similar to legends being passed from one generation to
the next, with each storyteller adding their own
flair/details)." Indeed, Einstein uses Planck's development of
the radiation law even as the younger physicist claims he will do it
differently. He parlays belief in the discreteness of molecules
(some of his contemporaries still doubted their existence) into an
argument, first cautious, then growing in strength, of the
discreteness of light.
A young man of 25, Einstein had mastered the old stories. In this
paper he combined the ways others looked at the world, and trusting
analogy as much as mathematics, made something new. Science is an
inspired account of the struggle by human beings to understand the
world. Changing it in the process. How could this be anything but a story?
Thanks to Anne Poduska for her careful reading and suggestions.
© Roald Hoffmann
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