Life of Pi – What’s the Main Message?

In a recent post I asked readers how they interpreted a key statement in the award-winning film, Life of Pi. Toward the end the protagonist remarks, “And so it goes with God.”

I don’t pretend to have “the” correct interpretation of this comment, but here’s what it means to me. In dealing with the biggest questions and deepest mysteries of life, people have concocted all sorts of fanciful stories, such as the creation myths of the world’s religions. Now science offers another sort of account, focusing on physical facts and the disciplined use of experiment and evidence.

Science has been stunningly successful in giving us greater prediction and control of physical reality. But we still, as a species, prefer more fanciful interpretations.

The film includes a reality-based story that contrasts with Pi’s fanciful tale. It is told in a flat, straightforward manner, reminding me of Sergeant Friday in the old Dragnet show – “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The story is tawdry, depressing, disturbing.

Must that be the emotional impact of the scientific world-view? I don’t think so, but no world-view will gain wide acceptance unless it appeals to human feelings, human imagination, human longings.

How can we present science in a way that inspires us instead of boring or depressing us? So far the best attempt I’ve seen is what Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow call “The Great Story.” Check out these sites to see what I mean:

Intellectuals used to refer to homo sapiens as the rational animal. Given all that we’ve learned about our own irrationality, that phrase seems pathetically inaccurate today. But homo sapiens as the imaginative animal? The story-telling animal? The meaning-maker? Yes indeed, for better and for worse. Our task, then, is to use our astonishing imaginations to write reality-based stories that heal and empower us. That, to me, is the main message of “Life of Pi.”

Roger Christan Schriner

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