Written by Thomas Schaeffer Nelson
My emotions and my rationality are very fond of each other. Quite possibly, too fond of each other for their own good. I descend from a line of moody-but-practical Minnesotans and, although I have never inhabited their state, I fully bear their state of self. Thus, I am someone who likes to try and make sense of things but often takes them far too much to heart.
Perhaps this has less to do with genetics than with an inflamed sense of drama. My father is an avid reader and made a point to incorporate me into his hobby from an early age. Movies and TV have also never been far off. With their combined powers, books, movies, and TV, all but drowned me in the emotional throes of good storytelling…well, storytelling. The resulting Schaeffer was one who increasingly looked for the dramatic potential in absolutely everything. So, from the start of my academic career, an interest in the meaning behind things, the story behind them, has been the parrot perched on my brain, providing commentary as I learned.
Recently, this commentary has been feeding off of ideas and feelings picked up from William Faulkner, Paul Haggis, and Spongebob, plus a whole lot of less identifiable sources. My brain rarely makes a fuss over said commentary. This is something I’m working on because sometimes when learning one just needs to swallow concepts rather than roll them around in the mouth. I’m not suggesting that I don’t discriminate among the ideas offered me (there’s an awful lot of shaky thinking out there), but in a world of deadlines, oftentimes stories have to wait so an assignment can be turned in. Basically, a daydreamer I am.
Nevertheless, I think I am very fortunate to have a brain and gut that get along so well, because I think their friendship has allowed me to understand something very important. There is no such thing as a story-free fact. I have yet to encounter information that is completely separate from the subjective, from values or meaning. Of course, this is much easier to observe in English or history, subjects that put the story in front and center. But even in math and the sciences, every law and theory was discovered only because someone wanted to discover it. Because that law or theory held emotional weight. Why else have scientists, erroneously labeled as separate from story-tellers, sometimes dedicated hours of energy and research on topics that, at least as far as they knew, may have held little practical importance? And even when scientists know of the potential applicability of their discoveries, say in cancer research, they are still fueled by a desire of some variety.
For me, this understanding has been of abiding consequence. After all, if my understanding is correct, then the rational and the dramatic (or, I guess, in clearer terms, the objective and the subjective) aren’t two parallel paths to knowledge. In fact, they are anything but parallel, and make a habit of interlocking. Two plus two equaling four wouldn’t have been discovered if a mathematician hadn’t been curious or slightly passionate; on the flipside, all of the curiosities and passions that followed in the realm of math wouldn’t have existed if not for the rational fact of two plus two. ‘
Well, that’s my two cents anyway. Actually, it’s not pocket change alone, since a great many (and far better) thinkers have held this view (including my namesake, Francis Schaeffer – along with Michael Polanyi). Boy, do I get a kick out attempting to philosophize. For that, I blame and thank my innate moodiness—the symptom of not being able to turn off the emotional side of things. Or maybe I’m just a big dork. So be it.
Editor’s Note: Schaeffer Nelson hails from Leawood, Kansas and attends the University of Southern California, where he begins studies this fall. Schaeffer is planning on majoring in creative writing.