Question

Storied Selves

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We tell stories. Some are true, most are not. We are only marginally adept at telling the difference. Science is an attempt at a system to get the story right. It sometimes works. Lies (in a broad sense) are not less interesting and certainly not less useful than true stories. They help us attract mates, maintain social cohesion and allow us to feel good about ourselves.

From deviousness to entertainment to bull (an old Norse word meaning gibberish and not its homonym meaning male bovine, the confusion of the two having resulted in the term “bullshit,” which is actually a stronger term—see, I told a story), telling untrue stories has resulted in development of our imaginations, whether by biological or cultural evolution.

Our developed imaginations give us the ability to anticipate the future, to predict, but not to do much about it, as in the case of climate change. Sometimes, the things we imagine and stories we tell promote positive social development and technological progress, sometimes the outcomes are negative. Many instances of both can be found, for example in our dealings with the rest of nature. Telling stories about things getting better does not mean that they will get better, but it might be a necessary precondition.

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