Scientific

What one observes and what one imagines are mutually reinforcing.

Last week I poured a dollop of health literacy and a gobbet of health acumen into a shaker, and shook. Shaken thus (not stirred), they yield a heady cocktail known as self-determination. Why does that matter? Because the self is the most instrumental determinant of health outcomes. Literacy and acumen each by itself informs and weighs; together they empower.

I always call this cocktail “scientific entertainment,” an oxymoron that evokes what Humaginarium is about. We know what entertainment is: it is art; it is artifice that tells the truth and gives pleasure; it is amusement, enjoyment, fun that replaces what actually is with what might or should be in a world of our own making. Everybody knows what entertainment is because everybody needs it, wants it, pays for and uses it; goes out of their way to get it and feels anxious or frustrated when they don’t get enough. But what about scientific? Most of us use that word without knowing (or maybe even caring) what it means.

Science is knowledge; or more precisely systematized knowledge; or more precisely still, systematized knowledge that results from observation and investigation, and that is consistent with evidence. That last bit is the main difference between science and art. Both generate knowledge, but science is empirical while art is philosophical. No big deal. Many people believe that one is more valuable, practical, truthful, influential than the other, but they are wrong. Not only are science and art equal in importance, but each is incomplete and hobbled without the other. Art and science together are another heady cocktail whose parts may also be enjoyed separately, but why on earth would you?

The usual answer is, because science is hard whereas art is easy. Science is technical whereas art is creative. Science is boring whereas art is exciting. Scientific insight resists and eludes discovery and application, whereas artistic insight just lies there waiting to be apprehended, and is useless. All of these contradistinctions are drivel: they just aren’t true. Yet we organize many civilized endeavors, including health promotion, according to our beliefs in them.

I say “scientific entertainment” to prevent the two concepts from coming apart at Humaginarium. My oxymoron is a frank declaration that empiricism and philosophy are not, or should not be, distinguishable. I push this to the farthest extreme by dovetailing the most erudite of all sciences (biomedicine) with the silliest of all arts (fantasy). For Humaginarium, when it comes to health and well-being, what one observes and what one imagines are mutually reinforcing. Always! I am, therefore I think; I think, therefore I am. (Descartes got it half right.)

You will not find health acumen mentioned by the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their campaigns of health promotion. Only health literacy. The reason for that is probably because literacy is scientific; acumen is fluff. Consequently, because of this scientific bias, their institutional essays on health literacy are generally unsatisfactory, futile, trivial, beside the point. Humaginarium hopes to improve the balance.

Nor will you find WHO and CDC tipping their hats to the arts as they bow to science, except on very rare occasions. Artists have no seats at the table of health promotion; all of the permanent seats are occupied by scientists and clinicians. Is that right and proper? No, it isn’t; it is disastrous. At Humaginarium we hope to do something about that as well.

Our hopes are not effusions of a company that has a dissociative identity disorder. Humaginarium is not trying to meld things that don’t belong together. We are not trying to be clever by getting funky with subject matter that is essentially technical. We are merely doing what needs to be done to break the cognitive chains that hold down the 98% whom I mentioned last week. Science can’t do it alone.

Or to put it a different way, we are making a heady new cocktail that is greater — far greater — than the sum of its parts. Shaken thus (not stirred).

Fantasy

Transforming the body from oozing, sticky humors into a cosmic miracle.

A more explicit way of saying “scientific entertainment” is “biological fantasy.” Both may be rare enough to qualify for trademark protection, provided they actually make sense and are useful. Do they, and are they?

Scientific entertainment and biological fantasy are oxymorons that label customer experience in Humaginarium. Each should negate itself because everybody knows that biology is real and fantasy is fake; that science is momentous and entertainment is merely fun. Add two polar opposites together and logically expect a nil result. Does that mean we’re making zero-sum, inconsequential mind games for customers of Humaginarium?

I don’t think so because, in the context of learning, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Look at it this way. Biology is the aspect of human nature that is real and tangible, but largely invisible and incomprehensible to regular folks. How do we know? Stop somebody on the street and ask a profound question about biology, for example, “What is a stem cell?” In most neighborhoods the answer may range from clueless to ridiculous, though every human life depends on stem cells and our species would go extinct without them. In this way biology is weirdly physical, immediate, deterministic, and largely unfathomable. (By the way, that lovely blob in the illustration below is a stem cell.)

Unlike biology, fantasy purveys intangible figments of the imagination that are nonetheless visible to the mind’s eye and fairly easy to understand. That’s partly why fantasy is a massively popular art form. People get it! To test this distinction, ask somebody on the street what a soul is, and you’ll likely get a devout or convinced or passionate response. Stem cells exist in and around us, yet folks know little if anything about them. Souls don’t exist anywhere, yet they’re a ubiquitous felt presence in real life. How can this be?

Probably because fantasy isn’t fake! Unreal yes, because it’s made up; but fully-conceived fantasy is at least as meaningful and truthful as biology; in fact more so for the vast majority. In scientific entertainment or biological fantasy, consumers confront what for them is unknowable and therefore frightening (the contests of the human body with morbid threats). They confront these threats with beliefs they can grasp and control to suit their longings and needs; and that activity is motivating. Though you may never hear the word fantasy in health care, I’m pretty sure it’s an uninvited guest at every medical procedure and sleepless night of worry. Patients leave the door unlocked because fantasy doesn’t negate science; instead it makes science believable, trustworthy, and useful to them.

What sorts of fantasies are churning in Humaginarium? Obviously science fiction because we picture and animate human physiology; and simulate its progressions with computer models. Like the wings of a fairy, fantasy surrounds and moves with our biology – not in order to falsify it, but to simplify and disarm it; and make it coherent, responsive, and beautiful. The imaginative rendering of scientific subject matter is called reductionism. It’s an aesthetic at the core of all great art (including the medical arts).

Beyond science fiction, Humaginarium presents immersive fantasy that alchemizes the oxymorons into seamless perceptual experiences. Customers don’t experience science and entertainment; instead they experience scientific entertainment with breathtaking epistemic powers. We present liminal fantasy that reframes the human body, transforming it from a pool of oozing, sticky humors into the cosmic miracle that “in fact” it “really” is. We present dark fantasy marbled with infection, inflammation, deterioration, and death that is coming after you and may catch you unawares and unguarded. We present comic fantasy sparkling with cuteness and jokes that ventilate the struggle for survival with the laughter of relief. Our initial visual prototypes did this job with steampunk, which somehow works like fictional nonfiction. There’s another oxymoron for opening doors of perception.

So then, does scientific entertainment make sense? You bet it does. Is biological fantasy useful? Only for certain things, like having a happier and longer life.

Scientific entertainment. Variation on Working in Marble by Jean-Léon Gérôme