Friday, November 13, 2015

Narrative, the question of events, and how we need to understand events in sequence

Aeon has provided us with another lovely article that I would recommend everyone read. "The Story Trap" by Philip Ball is a fascinating venture into both why we need narrative, and the pitfalls inherent there in.

Even when we see simple geometric shapes move about on a white background with no other informative ques we tend to ascribe an interpretive description in terms that make some kind of sense to the overall sequence. To some this might have emotional overtones, to others it might suggest formalistic behaviors responding to stimuli we have limited indications of.

And of course, such events don't need to be only visual, they can be purely auditory as well. Some people might listen to a passage of music and see suggestions of specific physical occurrences, and others would only feel the emotions tied to the experiences of life.

Even as Mr. Ball wonders at why we have this need for sequence explanation, he interprets this tendency towards a explanatory narrative to be fraught with error. For myself, however, the why, as well as the error probability, are quite understandable.

If you've had the chance to read the work of Robert Ornstein (most especially "The Evolution of Consciousness," to name a few) you know that he sees the way our brain works as the play of inner black boxes he calls simpletons. Areas of the brain that evolution has developed for the fast, and automatic, abstraction of exterior occurrence. We thus make quick guesses on boundaries (or the end of one thing and the beginning of another), as well as to the changes between these boundaries. The brain had to, of course, in order to survive. This is one of the reasons that optical illusions fool us.

As we have become more objectified with the advent of language, creating ever more layers of abstraction between what we experience, and how we interpret that experience, it is only to be expected that explanation for event sequences would become more complex; to the point even of an entire story line, complete of characters, motivations, and an outcome consistent of those motivations.

The bottom line here is that we are meaning processors. We have to make a sense of things for that is an inherent aspect of being a singular perceiver maintaining a shared grip, amongst other perceivers, on a reality peppered as it may be with errors. The interesting thing for me, however, is the degree to which the choices we make in perception, or interpretation, where the lines are drawn, and the boundaries made, have on reality itself. In a quantum world, after all, how you go about the measure of a thing affects how the thing will be ultimately determined.

Think on that and then consider: Might there be a possibility of errors in the physics narrative created by the bashing away at very small scales, with ever larger energies? Or are they simply creating a reality of violence.

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The story trap


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