Notes on Stories

(Needs to be indexed from Pet Topics page.)

Stories are weird man. I do not understand them.


Those who tell the stories rule society. — Plato

History is written by the winners.

Those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs. — Frank Harte

History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. — attributed to Napoleon


From Sarah Perry, Every Cradle is a Grave:

The Story as a Cognitive Bias

The essence of consciousness, says Antonio Damasio, is the internal narrative — the story one tells oneself about oneself. The ability to create this narrative — to conceive of oneself, to project oneself into the past and the future, to connect events meaningfully — has proven to be a very effective evolutionary strategy to ensure that an organism acts to promote its own ends.

Our evolutionary history ensures that we think in stories. Stories are so central to our thinking that it is hard to think about them. An old fish said to a couple of young fish, "Morning, boys! The water's fine today!" and swam off. One young fish turned to the other young fish and asked, "What's water?" Thus it is with humans and stories.

Stories are extremely useful; as information-hungry, social creatures, we are as pleased to hear stories as dogs are to sniff the pee stains of other dogs. We love stories. We are stories. We think and remember in the form of stories. As Roger Schank puts it (in Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory), "In the end all we have, machine or human, are stories and methods of finding and using those stories."

But stories are not real. They are constructs that we apply to the universe, but there is no story out in the universe. There is no "gist" or "point" to the universe, as stories have gists and points. We construct meaning to serve our evolutionarily-determined ends, and this is, I think, the most central of all the cognitive biases.


Everyone's the protagonist in his own story.

Kant famously argued that people can't "see" outside their theoretical lenses. Who has made the same argument for narrative lenses?


Last updated June 3, 2015.