Monday, January 7, 2013

What's in a story?

Continuing from the last post, check out Eagleman's website at this link. In the "research-other projects" tab I read his article "The moral of the story." It asserts that the neural purpose of stories is to

"simulate potential situations.... By learning the rules of the world and simulating outcomes in the service of decision making, brains can play out events without the risk and expense of attempting them physically.... The production and scrutiny of counterfactuals (colloquially known as 'what ifs') is an optimal way to test and refine one’s behavior."

He goes on to note that learning new information or skills requires that we must be in a state of curious anticipation and emotionally engaged. And story is the door that opens up this learning experience, not facts and figures. Stories "accomplish the same evolutionary function as religion: defining groups, coordinating behavior and suppressing selfishness in favor of cooperation."

While he doesn't provide research supporting these claims in the article he does point to the book he is reviewing, where apparently some of that research is found. And one can find plenty of research on this in the literature on framing in the previous link provided. Framing is based on the same research, how to "tell a story" effectively to shape opinion and behavior, as in voting. Stories are not just what we tell ourselves to justify our behavior but more importantly how we can to some extent reverse engineer and direct our zombie programs to more 'evolved' purposes.

As an aside, given the above and my propensity for a good story in the form of literature, it might behoove us to sometime read some good fiction. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson is one such good book, and on our current theme with Incognito.

Also see these IPS threads: The world is made of storiesEcology, a new story; Big stories, the new universe; Lakoff's Thinking Points.

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