Science is Catching Up

Leslie Marmon Silko's new book

Second daughter (Wee-Hey) and I heard Leslie Marmon Silko talk about writing, literature and family, and it’s surprising and delightful that many of her thoughts can be linked to Native Science.

In her afternoon chat with students and faculty, Silko said she was interested in physics and astronomy, and described how the Mayans could calculate the timing of the presence of Venus long before super computers were available.

She told how medicine men would counsel the ill to sit in the waters bathed by uranium deposits in the Southwest for healing purposes, long before Western scientists figured out that radiation could kill some cancers. “Scientific knowledge is organized differently in indigenous cultures,” Silko said. Science, she said, is spoken in narratives and stories. You just need to listen.

Western science is beginning to catch up to indigenous science, she said, smiling. “I’m excited to follow subatomic physics, where time and space take on new meanings.” Time is no longer treated as a constant in theories of relativity, which Silko interprets as evidence that Indian ways-of-knowing hold gravitas.

In her talks at Portland State this week Silko said she’s a great believer in completing tasks in their own time, and says that elders would just shrug their shoulders when outsiders demanded they meet deadlines. It’s the same with her writing.

Why do the media announce that this is my first book in ten years, she asked. It doesn’t matter to her how long the book takes. In fact, writing, she says, has a life of its own. Indeed, she said the book couldn’t be finished until the star beings were ready for it to be finished. Silko said she would break free from writing to paint, and in the process of painting, found herself ready to return to writing.

Being in the moment (“I know it sounds very Zen”) is critical to Silko, which she linked to subatomic physics. There is no yesterday or tomorrow, only now, she said.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, health, Indian, Native Science, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Science is Catching Up

  1. Lyndi says:

    Cindy – thanks for this terrific post. I’m gonna look for this book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s