Narrative from Edward O. for Jeremy B.

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Thu Feb 14 2002 - 02:30:09 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Memes Meta-Memes and Politics 1 of 3 (1988, updates 2002)"

    Received: by id CAA20477 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Thu, 14 Feb 2002 02:37:23 GMT
    Message-Id: <>
    X-Sender: (Unverified)
    X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 5.0.2
    Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 21:30:09 -0500
    From: Ray Recchia <>
    Subject: Narrative from Edward O. for Jeremy B.
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"; format=flowed
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
    Precedence: bulk

    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."

    ===============================This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Feb 14 2002 - 02:46:48 GMT