How not to film a jumping fish

Aug 9, 2023 | Insights

An irrational story behind the rational will help you see new feelings, possibilities, and ways to better your life and the lives of others.
I remember some years ago seeing an amazing sequence from a wildlife documentary of a fish jumping out of the water of an African lake to catch a passing insect.

The water’s surface erupted as a beautiful and colourful creature lept out of the water to catch its prey with pinpoint accuracy. Here was nature in the raw, bloody, beautiful and awe-inspiring. It was magical, almost mystical. 

However, documentary filmmakers had just begun to respond to the demand to know how these films were made by devoting the last ten minutes to showing the camera and support teams at work.

Consequently, I discovered the sequence was not natural but “engineered” by the filmmakers. It was almost contrived.

I was disappointed. I had thought I was seeing a magnificent display of nature in the raw. Instead, I found I was watching humanity controlling nature. The magic disappeared as I realised I was watching a film about human achievement, not natural achievement.

Rational and irrational understanding

The rational and irrational form our understanding of the world. Logic (logos) is the foundation for the rational. The irrational revolves around the meaning and purpose of the story (mythos).

Over the centuries, mythos has been relegated to the back seat whilst logos has come to dominate our grasp of life, hence the explanation of how to film a jumping fish at the end of the documentary.

Without human intervention, the jumping fish is a story of nature at its most inventive. In its mysterious way, it gives hope, joy and a reason for living. Here was the story of a creature that had struggled through evolution and developed a unique skill. The fish had a story that gave it meaning and purpose, which it passed on to those that saw it.

However, the story became one of practical rationality in the hands of the filmmakers. The film producers interfered with and engineered nature to take a perfect shot of a jumping fish, taking the magic and mystique out of the scene.

Balance the rational and the story.

A balance of rationality and meaningful stories is necessary to understand the world and make a difference. However, as we have discovered more and more about our world, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns exert an even greater pressure to answer rational questions about how the world works.

As you find a new purpose, consider how you might step back from a purely rational approach and think about the connected stories that provide a deeper meaning than the rational approach can provide. The story behind the knowledge will help you see new ways of feeling, new possibilities, and new ways to better your lives and the lives of others.

Photo attribution


Photo by jameskitt616 on Unsplash


Audio link




Armstrong, Karen. Sacred Nature. Jonathan Cape, 1 June 2022.


Taking it further:


In quantum mechanics, we see the rational and irrational come together. Commentators reach for irrational explanations in the absence of rational explanations for many of the recently discovered quantum phenomena.


The story of the fish brings to mind Schrodinger’s Cat. Would I have felt the same about the fish if I didn’t know how the film was made?


John Gribben writes an interesting book about the quantum world entitled, predictably, In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat. Whilst Gribben tries to make his explanation of the quantum world as simple as possible, the book is difficult to understand in parts, reflecting the complexity of the quantum universe rather than Gribbin’s writing.


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The wealth in our stories

There is a vast amount of wealth in our stories, not least because simply telling your story can have an impact on the lives of others.


How critical reflection leads to growth

Critical reflection fosters personal growth and change in the same way that stories, which mirror the reflective process, change the world.

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