Cognition & Reality

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Stories

The “past” and “future” are constructions, as I have discussed previously (in the fictional past). The specific representations we offer ourselves as “proof” of past and future, I refer to as “stories,” a terminology that did not originate with me. A “story,” in this context, is a description of something that supposedly happened or will happen, built from elements of reality.

This last phrase is important: When I ask you what happened at such and such a time, you might tell me about your parents’ divorce. True, your parents did get divorced, but an infinite number of other things happened at the same time: The hostages were released in Iran, your report card showed all “A’s.” the bulb in the bathroom light fixture blew out, rust continued to form on the wrought-iron fence…

From that infinite store, you have selected one from Column A, one from Column B, and so on, to present a “story” about your parents splitting up. When I say that it’s a “story,” I don’t mean that it’s not a compelling account of something you experienced, but I am say that it is your construction of that experience, which also included countless other elements that you left out. Therefore, “my parents divorce” is a selection from the infinite variety of life as it is lived.

To show that it is a “story,” consider how your siblings or your parents would report on the same period of time. There would probably be a great deal of similarity between your account and theirs, but there would be differences, as well. Notice that I referred to others’ accounts about  “a period of time” rather than, say, “a series of events,” because the putative “events” are the elements of the story.

Say that you were at home when the divorce happened, and your older sister was away at college. Her “story” would differ from yours in many ways, right? The “events” in her story would occur in other places and at other times, relative to the “events” in your story. In some cases, two witnesses to the same supposed set of actions can present accounts that have almost no similarity, which is the basis of the film “Rashomon” and the novels in The Alexandria Quartet.

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