Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id CAA20477 (8.6.9/5.3[ref firstname.lastname@example.org] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from email@example.com); Thu, 14 Feb 2002 02:37:23 GMT Message-Id: <firstname.lastname@example.org> X-Sender: email@example.com (Unverified) X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 5.0.2 Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 21:30:09 -0500 To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: Ray Recchia <email@example.com> Subject: Narrative from Edward O. for Jeremy B. Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"; format=flowed Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org Precedence: bulk Reply-To: email@example.com
For Jeremy B, a little Edward O. by way of Raymond O.
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.
"The present in particular is constructed from sensations very far in
excess of what can be put into the simulacrum. Working at a frantic pace,
the brain summons memories — past scenarios — to help screen and organize
the incoming chaos. It simultaneously creates imaginary scenarios to create
fields of competing options, the process we call decision-making. Only a
tiny fraction of the narrative fragments-the focus-is selected for
higher-order processing in the prefrontal cortex. That segment constitutes
the theater of running symbolic imagery we call the conscious mind.
"During the story-building process, the past is reworked and returned to
memory storage. Through repeated cycles of recall and supplementations the
brain holds on to shrinking segments of the former conscious
states. Across generations the most important among these fragments are
communicated widely and converted into history, literature, and oral
tradition. If altered enough, they become legend and myth. The rest
disappear. The story I have just told you about Mesozoic ants is all true
as I can reconstruct it from my memory and notes. But it is only a little
bit of the whole truth, most of which beyond my retrieval no matter how
hard I might try."
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