Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles May 2019

Sunday, September 28, 2014

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (May 2015): Question 3

3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

In his book The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall does exactly what is suggested in the quotation when trying to find an answer to the question, why do humans need story?

Referring, among other things, to the data generated from experiments on split brain patients, which is fascinating in itself, Gottschall weaves an argument to support the explanation that fiction-making is an evolutionary adaptation which gives humans at least four advantages over other species:

1/ It engages our imaginations to construct world in which to rehearse real life dramas within the safety net of our own minds – we can risk danger in our fantasy lives that we wouldn’t dare to risk in our ordinary lives, but this toughens us up for eventualities in the real world.

2/The storytelling mind is an identifiable neural network in the brain which helps (though can often mislead) us to make sense of the chaos of information that constantly bombards our perceptions – our brain is hardwired to seek patterns in random data and to describe them as a way of navigating our environment.

3/ The fictions we engage with reinforce common values that we hold dear to our social and individual well being – most of the stories we enjoy are to do with justice prevailing over injustice, as we understand it in our culture.

4/ Make-believe has the power to strengthen social bonds and promote in-group harmony – this is a legacy of the oral tradition when people would gather around a storyteller, enthralled by the dynamics of the narrative being recounted.

Okay, but this doesn’t really tell us how we make fictions.  This explanation is where the ‘facts and theories’ of the H & N Sciences come into play in Gotschall’s argument.  He refers us to the work of Michael Gazzaniga (it’s a long but fascinating article, so be patient!) whose work with split brain patients yielded a theory about ‘the left brain interpreter’, which Gottschall explains in terms of ‘the Sherlock Holmes’ syndrome’: our strange capacity to ‘reason backwards’ (or 'deduce') from the mass of information transmitted through our perception to the brain which orders it to give an orderly description of cause and effect of how things happen.  However, there is a down side to this: while the inner storyteller doesn’t like uncertainty, chance and randomness, it craves order and meaning.  In other words, if the storytelling mind cannot find meaning in the world, it will impose meaning through fabrication, lies or invention: in short, it will make up a story...