Ashley Salazar, Samie Jo Johnson, Madeleine Nutting in Something Incredible
Ashley Salazar, Samie Jo Johnson, Madeleine Nutting in Something Incredible Ian Johnston

The problem from the very beginning has been the idea that the cost of science accumulating more and more hard facts about life (evolution, genes, RNA) and the universe (bosons, quarks, wave function collapse) is disenchantment. According to this view, the world of our nonscientific ancestors was alive with miracles and wonders. Ghosts and goblins were as real to them as dogs and goats. But in our age of science and technology, any fantastic animal does not stand a chance. For example, the fossil found in 2011 by miners in Canada looks to the popular imagination exactly like the dragons slayed by knights in the age of King Arthur. But scientists tell us it's not a monster. It didn't have red-hot eyes. It did not breathe fire. It in fact was a plant-eating dinosaur with lots of armour. It died in what is now called Canada 110 million years ago.

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The spell is gone. And not for the first or last time.

Recall those Chinese peasants who thought they found the fossil of a flying dragon, and ground its bones to a paste, which was then applied to injuries or consumed to cure dizziness and other disturbances of the mind. They too got the bad news from scientists: not a fantastic dragon, but an ordinary dinosaur. These are our times. The disciplined and penetrating eyes of a scientist can reduce the poetry of a sunset or the magic of moonlight or a kingdom of clouds to their constituent and interacting elements.

But this sense of disenchantment is the result of confusing the scientific method with scientific discovery. The method is, for sure, sober and strict and as dispassionate as possible. But what is revealed by the rigorous method never fails to be anything less than marvelous. With science, enchantment is not lost but increased to a state of estrangement—which, as the Russian Formalists once argued, is the condition of poetry. Walking on water looks like a walk in the park when compared to the spookiness of scientifically verified quantum entanglement.

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And this is exactly the understanding at the core of a short play called Something Incredible, which is a part of Annex's Research & Development Wing and plays from May 16 to May 17.

Directed by Emily Harvey, and written by playwright Natalie Copeland and Emily Harvey, Something Incredible is about an infinite library that is out of time, Borgesian in complexity, and contains all human knowledge. But the knowledge it privileges is scientific; but science in this play is not a bath filled with ice cubes. The knowledge gathered from the world it opens, examines, and tests has the warmth and supernal vibrancy of the sermons in the Bible or the visions of a shaman.

The first act gives a description of the birth of the universe which is drawn directly from science's deepest understanding of the nature of reality, the Standard Model. The play also explores, with a poetry that never sacrifices clarity, the evolution of the universe into the evolution of life, the most complex system that intelligent life knows of. There are no men in this production. But it's not at all surprising that women have a knack for tuning the hard facts of science to the spooky soul of the human animal. The universe is indeed something incredible.