Re: Narrative and meme transfer

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Sun 22 Dec 2002 - 01:44:04 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Narrative and meme transfer"
    At 04:59 PM 12/21/2002 -0800, you wrote:

    Book Review

    The Science of Fiction


    The mind makes sense of the world by telling itself
    little stories, says one critic--and he's listening in.

    of the hugely publicized hoax article planted last year by physicist Alan Sokal in the hapless cultural studies journal 'Social Text,' you might be forgiven for thinking scientists and humanities scholars had nothing to exchange but brickbats. The Literary Mind (Oxford University Press, 1996, $25.00) triumphantly proves otherwise. Mark Turner, its author, is a professor of English at the University of Maryland who has also served a careful apprenticeship in cognitive and neural science, and his double competence empowers him to step confidently in both fields. "The everyday mind," Turner argues, "is essentially literary." Literary modes, he believes--specifically story and parable--are the basic structures of all human knowledge. They may even be physically detectable, in the neural wiring of our brains.

    (snip).  You can get the rest from Grant's original post.


    Very good. Reminds me of a snippet I posted on February 14 ot this year from E.O. Wilson.  Reading it got me doing some thinking.  As a small town attorney I live in the world of the narrative.  I see hundreds of people each year and become deeply involved in their personal worlds.  In the U.S. legal system  judges are limited to making decisions on the basis of the singular narrative in front of them at one particular time.

    I think that such narratives are compelling to us at least partially because of our tribal nature.  Knowing who is having sex with who is extremely important for survival in tribal hierarchies.  Which of the following is really more important to me?  The current state of the U.S. economy or who Jennifer Lopez is sleeping with?  The answer is obviously the current state of the U.S. economy.  I have a genetic predisposition though to be interested in the sex lives of high status males and females, and my mind is predisposed to be able to take that information and store it away.  This is why celebrities are so important in marketing.  Yes these individuals are thrown in our faces on a constant basis, but the reason that is being done is because of our susceptibility.

    Anyway,  I'm reposting the snippet from E.O. Wilson.  This essay is one of the best things I've ever read by him.  It would be nice to see some hard research further into this.

    Ray Recchia

    From 'The Best American Science and Nature Writing:
    2001', 'Introduction: Life is a Narrative' by Edward O. Wilson pp. xv-xvi

    "Science, like the rest of culture, is based on the manufacture of
    narrative. That is entirely natural, and in a profound sense is a
    Darwinian necessity. We all live by narrative, every day and every minute
    of our lives. Narrative is the human way of working through a chaotic and
    unforgiving world bent on reducing our bodies to malodorous catabolic
    molecules. It delays the surrender of our personal atoms and compounds back
    to the environment the assembly of more humans, and ants.

    "By narrative we take the best stock we can of the world and our
    predicament in it. What we see and recreate is seldom the blinding literal
    truth. Instead, we perceive and respond to our surroundings in narrow ways
    that most benefit our organismic selves. The narrative genius of Homo
    sapiens is an accommodation to the inher­ent inability of the three pounds
    of our sensory system and brain to process more than a minute fraction of
    the information the envi­ronment pours into them. In order to keep the
    organism alive, that fraction must be intensely and accurately selective.
    The stories we tell ourselves and others are our survival manuals.

    "With new tools and models, neuroscientists are drawing close to an
    understanding of the conscious mind as narrative generator.They view it as
    an adaptive flood of scenarios created continuously by the working brain.
    Whether set in the past, present or future, whether fictive or reality
    based, the free-running constructions are our only simulacrum of the world
    outside the brain. They are everything we will ever possess as individuals.
    And, minute by minute they determine whether we live or die.

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