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The Stories We Tell Matter

Multisensory art plus science exhibitions can promote transformative empathy.

Key points

  • To understand the world, we seek patterns in all we perceive and then use that data to develop the narratives that make up our worldview.
  • Multisensory environments can produce transformative learning, empathy, and social change.
  • Collaborative science and art installations represent a contemporary way to disseminate information and build mutually beneficial narratives.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.–Albert Einstein

Source: 0fjd125gk87/Pixabay

The stories we hold simplify the world's complexity and make it less confusing, which is why we tend to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs. It’s less overwhelming that way.

When we are confronted with novel information, the new data gets filtered through the stories in our heads. If the data agrees with our stories, we allow that information in; if it doesn’t, we reject it. So, while our stories are essential for sorting out reality, they can create blind spots, making us prone to fashioning decisions based on habit, hope, and fear, using whatever information is readily available to confirm our choices.

Our stories also help us filter the people with whom we choose to engage. We trust our tribe, those with whom we feel affinity and share worldviews. The more dissimilar people or their ideas, the more skeptical we become. This allegiance can make our stories feel supercharged, compelling us to defend one side over the other. Once this happens, we dig in. The conflict feeds on itself, and the us-versus-them narrative can take over, making us immune to accepting new information, even when it is evidence-based.

In order for novel information to be accepted, we need to have a story in our heads that allows contrasting data to be processed. While humans tend to simplify, pigeonhole, moralize and demonize, we also share a desire to determine the truth. Breaking through dissonance and tribalism involves finding ways that allow us to see a broader picture, honor a range of voices, build trust, and connect with a myriad of points of view.

As the interconnectedness of the modern world expands, interrelated consequences accelerate (Jerome, 2019). We need to develop better ways of taking care of one another. We need to develop new platforms that provide engaging opportunities for receiving and examining unfamiliar stories, facilitate questioning and act as catalysts for social change.

Sensory information is processed differently than words. When information is seen, heard, and felt at a visceral level, new perspectives that would otherwise be rejected can be considered. Multisensory catalysts, such as visual art, performance, food, and music, are able to move us past our particular perspectives.

Engaging our hearing, seeing, smell, taste, and touch to explore information is our brain’s favorite means of perception as it has evolved to process and integrate diverse information into a coherent and meaningful narrative (Chandrasekaran, 2017). When our senses are engaged, our sense of self and others becomes blurred, and we can experience a world beyond our private selves (Dzieweczynski, 2021). When we perceive our commonality rather than our differences, we become more able to work toward mutually beneficial goals. Our humanity deepens.

Blended arts and science narratives can act as multisensory vehicles to convey nuanced and complex data. Combining the arts with data-driven narratives brings together both sides of our brains, rises past politics, and reaches deep into our hearts to ignite emotions and fuel social action. Science-based information is crucial to developing systemic, sustainable solutions for our complex world.

Novel platforms that promote art and science collaboration within immersive, multisensory environments offer new hope for the cross-pollination of ideas and the dissemination of powerful empirical narratives able to build empathy. Science plus the arts inspire transformative learning with a common humanistic narrative: to build a more just and sustainable world inspired through art and informed by truth (Jerome, 2019).

The stories we tell matter.


Chandrasekaran, C. (2017). Computational principles and models of multisensory integration. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 43:25-34. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2016.11.002. Epub 2016 Dec 2. PMID: 27918886; PMCID: PMC5447489.

Dzieweczynski, E. (2021). Feeling Data: Aesthetic empathy in art and science collaborations. Mn Artists, Walker Arts Center.…

Jerome, L. (2019). Collaboration, Complexity and Innovation: The Stories We Tell Matter (September 7, 2019). SSRN: or

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