Is Storytelling Really A Programming Language For Our Minds?


Sunday, 8.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is. – Joseph Campbell

It’s can be a little dispiriting reading Isaac Asimov’s autobiography It’s been a good life.

This is someone who remembered everything he read or heard, through whom plot and story just flowed with ease and who never had writer’s block.

But he still had to serve his time – eleven years where he didn’t make enough to live off and years of rejections before he became known enough that he could just write and sell.

Asimov was a scientist, a proper one, who could also write science fiction. His fiction had real science in it and the stuff he made up also sounded like science.

He also liked history and his Foundation series is really the story of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire except set in a future galactic period.

As I write these posts I am conscious that there has been a change in the way I think about thinking.

In the very beginning I thought that what might interest people was technical information.

You might be very interested, I presumed, in the rate of glacier melting, the economics of battery storage or the intricacies of obesity-fuel ratios.

I quickly found that even I was having trouble staying interested.

I then moved to a much longer period investigating models – primarily ones around management.

There are so many heuristics, rules of thumb and conceptual models that people have come up with over time and some of them seem obvious and some of them make us stop and think a little.

After a while, however, they all run into the same problem – which is that although they give you a way to describe a situation they don’t really tell you what to do.

We are told that the goal is to be able to think critically, to look at everything and construct an explanation that works in a particular situation which is easy to say and very hard to do.

So, models are worth understanding but so what?

As the saying goes, they’re all wrong, but some are useful.

Now I feel like I’m entering a new phase, one where story and narrative are getting more important.

The reason for this is that I am coming to a belated understanding of the importance of story to our belief systems.

In a nutshell, the story you tell me about what you think is the best way I will get a understanding of what is your reality.

There is a bit (lot) more at this Sunday essay – but it seems to me that stories can be seen as programs we run in our minds.

If we want to understand others we have to understand their stories – not in context or in relation but as stories, unique and complete in themselves.

It’s like the quote I go back to from time to time that “Reality is a shared narrative we choose to believe.”

For many of us stories are reality.

And the way to change our reality is to write new stories.

I wonder if that is a line of thinking worth exploring.



Karthik Suresh

p.s. About the picture: Asimov said that to write you needed thinking time, time in front of your keyboard and the ability to see patterns of story.

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