The Stories We Tell


Stories are what we use to organize information and remember incidents. Loose details are hard to corral; lassoing them together with a storyline makes them memorable. This is how we make hi“story” out of chaos.

This does not make for consensus, however, since people connect the same dots differently according to their mental biases, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in The Black Swan:

“When Arabs and Israelis watch news reports they see different stories in the same succession of events. Likewise, Democrats and Republicans look at different parts of the same data and never converge to the same opinions. Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views.”

The same is true for the religious and nonreligious. Each fits the “facts” of physics, geology, biology, anthropology and a myriad other disciplines into a cohesive story—THEIR story.

The three main organizing systems the nonreligious use to understand reality are Platonic, Aristotelian or nominalistic.* The religious usually find blueprints in their sacred books. Even the same text can give rise to diverse faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have their taproots in the Hebrew Bible.

Some stories are truer than others but all are told with a slant. Admitting this to ourselves shows maturity. Admitting this to others shows humility. The world could use more of both.

“The very ink with which history is written
is merely fluid prejudice.”
Mark Twain

* The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature, Rupert Sheldrake

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