One of my favorite movies (and, knowing the latest trend of presenting decades-delayed critical reviews of movies, one that the intellectual community probably hates) is “Contact.” When the protagonist of the movie, Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, realizes her dream journey of traveling in space to “meet” another celestial civilization, she pauses at one point, staring out into a collection of celestial planets and satellites, and says, overwhelmed: “They should have sent a poet.” Ellie readily admits, “No words, no words.”
I’ve always chewed on that monologue with some flip-flopping of agreement and disagreement with Ellie. You want to capture the whole experience, you send a poet. You want the scientific data you’re looking for, you’re probably going to send Ellie. The poet won’t know what to look for, thank God, and the scientist will miss a lot in watching what they’re looking for, thank God. So there’s a gap to mind. A BIG one.
On a recent interview on Fresh Air, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (hell, let’s just stay with the space theme for a moment) is asked the question if his approach to science is to “dumb-it down” for the rest of us. “The audience can tell if you’re dumbing something down,” he replies, and that helps bridge that gap between art and science in an intelligent, respectful way. “Contact” did that for me; when you hear terms like “SETI” (whose founder, on a side note, just passed away this last week) and “Occam’s razor,” out in the world if you didn’t know them before that movie, you start to see the world in a different application. The movie’s about science, it’s about rationality, it’s about spiritualism, and then it flips the whole world into that new application, and for the brief length of the film, you question something. Maybe it’s the motive of the film you’re questioning, maybe the science of it, but you find opportunity in the poetry, you find opportunity in the science.
I work in a call center as a workforce analyst, a position in any company that requires communication skills of the poet and the math skills of a scientist. The poet often has to explain why a schedule looks the way it does, or why the metrics look the way they do, and the poet has to do this to a diverse audience of managers, executives, and the customer-facing call center agent. This communication has to occur without a)insulting the intelligence of the other party, and b)talking over the understanding of the other party. Often, I rely on analogies. Imagine this scenario you might be familiar with, I say, and you’re close to what’s happened, or what will happen. I have to know my audience a little…I have to know what is typically understood about the science…and then I have to take the person to the next level. In “Contact,” the movie accomplishes this by presenting another striving character with a different celestial goal in Palmer Joss. Both Ellie and Palmer are looking for the same things and insisting their own paths as best–there’s enough devotion to themselves and enough devotion to the discovery that they can meet each other and question each other.
What I often see on LinkedIn and other job boards is that the employer is looking for certain characteristics in an analyst. Does any of it include poetry? Any science?
A mathematician is a mathematician.
A poet is a poet.
If they meet in one celestial body…they are an analyst.
Mind the gap.