Stories are made of fragments and are apprehended when their respective parts are lined up with a threshold level of coherence: Such tableaux, once “…begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of the occasion” (apologies to Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, iv.ii [70])



ART & ORGANISM, in its concern for CONNECTIONS and COMMUNICATION has –in both ART and SCIENCE– often spoken of as most effectively grounded in: 

The Best Story You Can Tell With The Best Evidence You Have 

(… appreciating that EXPRESSIVE ART of the creator works in concert with the RECEPTIVE ART of the audience, the artist’s target, without which his efforts are incomplete (but appreciating also that often the targets of an artist’s efforts is the artist them self)

BUT WHAT IS “BEST” in this context? — Arguably it is an individual’s aesthetic judgement but one which can be tied to physiological and psychological ideas: –remembering “Science is Objective, But Scientists are Not”– The individual, based on disposition and experience, is guided by  SATISFACTION, arguably, a state of having “minimized dissonance.”  So, CAN WE SAY that an emotional or cognitive response to the fulfillment of wants or expectations or needs is the (necessary and sufficient) criterion for judgement of the validity of an aesthetic or scientific conception?  CONNECT to 

READ NOW, The Story-Telling Animal, by Kathryn Morton (1984)

and then

OLIVER SACKS – on-narrative-and-personhood/

OK, so complex messages have an objective framework built of specifics (which may support validity), but in the absence of relevance the message will not penetrate–a resonance with circumstances beyond the individual with its necessary generality and ambiguities is essential.   

“Do we dare define it? “Storytelling”—as presently, promiscuously deployed—comprises fiction (but also nonfiction). It is the realm of playful fantasy (but also the very mortar of identity and community); it traps (and liberates); it defines (and obscures). Perhaps the most reliable marker is that little halo it has taken to holding above its own head, its insistent aura of piety. Storytelling is what will save the kingdom; we are all Scheherazade now. Among the other entities storytelling has recently been touted to save: wildlife, water, conservatism, your business, our streets, newspapers, medicine, the movies, San Francisco, and meaning itself. Story is our mother tongue, the argument runs. For the sake of comprehension and care, we must be spoken to in story. Story has elbowed out everything else, from the lyric to the logical argument, even the straightforward news dispatch. In 2020, the Times’ media columnist wrote that the publication was evolving “from the stodgy paper of record into a juicy collection of great narratives.

All sorts of studies are fanned out in defense: we are persuaded more by story than by statistics; we recall facts longer if they are embedded in narrative; stories boost production of cortisol (encouraging attentiveness) and oxytocin (encouraging connection). We are pattern-seeking, meaning-making creatures, who project our narrative needs upon the world. “Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings,” according to Yuval Noah Harari. Story is now so valued that, in many realms, it has become compulsory—consider the recitations required of asylum seekers or rape victims, who are penalized or dismissed if the parameters of their stories do not readily conform to the genre.”

   (Sehgal 2023)[ii]

At best we have fragments of memories … like the stars linked to make a constellation, the blanks filled in, we create a powerful heuristic, The fixed and flexible elements of that are connected into stories…  


We clasp the hands of those that go before us,

And the hands of those who come after us.

We enter the little circle of each other’s arms

And the larger circle of lovers,

Whose hands are joined in a dance

And the larger circle of all creatures

Passing in and out of life

Who move also in a dance

To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it

Except in fragments.                                                                                                                                      


(Wendell Berry)



[i] The Tyranny of the Tale. By Parul Sehgal (July 3, 2023) The New Yorker. July 10 & 17, 2023 Issue  (We’re told that story will set us free. But what if a narrative frame is also a cage?)






“Bayesian inference is a method of statistical inference in which Bayes’ theorem is used to update the probability for a hypothesis as more evidence or information becomes available” (Wikipedia)

OFTEN OUR INSIGHT into normal function is enlarged  during dysfunction.  “Why do people form delusions? And why do they retain them in the face of seemingly incontrovertible evidence against them?” 

“Researchers in  the  emerging field  of computational psychiatry have  recently sought  to  answer  these  questions by  appeal  to dysfunctions in a process  of hierarchical Bayesian  inference alleged  to underlie perception and  belief  xation2  in the  healthy (i.e. neurotypical) population.  These hierarchical Bayesian models have been motivated in large part by  predictive processing (also  known  as  hierarchical  predictive coding), an  influential theory  in  cognitive   and  computational  neuroscience that  models  the  brain  as  a  “probabilistic prediction machine” striving   to  minimize the  mismatch between internally generated predictions  of  its  sensory   inputs   and  the  sensory   inputs   themselves.  As Griffin and  Fletcher, (2017,  p. 265)  note,  this “growing understanding of the brain as an organ of predictive inference has been central  to establishing computational psychiatry as a framework for understanding how alterations in brain processes  can drive the emergence of high-level  psychiatric symptoms.”  (excerpted from Williams (2018) 




Excerpted and glossed from:

Story telling increases oxytocin … and decreases cortisol and pain

Guilherme Brockington et al. (2021)

https://www.pnas.org/doi/epdf/10.1073/pnas.2018409118 .

“We are all storytellers. From the bards and troubadours of the Middle Ages to the most recent Hollywood blockbuster, humans are exceptionally attracted to telling and listening to stories. Storytelling is culturally ubiquitous (1, 2). In fact, our taste for narrative has likely played a critical adaptive role in human society (3–5).[see Boyd 2018 on “The Evolution of Stories,” below]The act of telling stories has been shown to be a central element for establishing human connections and influencing subjective emotions in both the storyteller and the audience (1, 6, 7).

From a psychological standpoint, stories allow us to make meaning of our world (8). Furthermore, storytelling helps us navigate our social world by turning the continuum of lived events into a coherent and organized narrative, despite life’s emotional peaks and valleys (9, 10), and helps to simulate possible social realities (11, 12).

Recent research into the universal human interest in narratives and storytelling provides insight into possible mechanisms. One main hypothesis is derived from a process known as “narrative transportation,” a dynamic and complex interaction between language, text, and imagination which creates a state of cognitive and emotional immersion that deeply engages listeners in the world of the narrative (13–15). Stories invite readers or listeners to immerse themselves in the portrayed action and thus lose themselves for the duration of the narrative. … Current psychological and neuroscientific evidence supports the basic premises of this transportation process (16, 17) and its plausible origins based on evolutionarily relevant preadaptations involving mirror neuron systems, conversational language structures, metaphor processing, and imagination. Furthermore, cognitive theories suggest that stories facilitate and enable mental simulations, thereby facilitating mental models that people use to simulate social realities.

Mar and Oatley (11) argue that narratives offer models or simulations of the social world via abstraction, simplification, and compression, which then allow for vicarious learning of social realities through the experience of fictional characters. These narrative transportations and mental simulations can help reframe personal experiences, broaden perspectives, deepen emotional processing abilities, increase empathy, and regulate self-models and emotional experiences (17–19).” 

Brockingham et al. “…investigated whether listening to narratives from a storyteller can provide beneficial effects for children admitted to intensive care units.  Biomarkers (oxytocin and cortisol), pain scores, and psycholinguistic associations were collected immediately before and after storytelling and an active control intervention (solving riddles that also involved social interaction but lacked the immersive narrative aspect). Compared with the control group, children in the story-telling group showed a marked increase in oxytocin combined with a decrease in cortisol in saliva after the 30-min intervention. They also reported less pain and used more positive lexical markers when describing their time in hospital. Our findings provide a psychophysiological basis for the short-term benefits of storytelling and suggest that a simple and inexpensive intervention may help alleviate the physical and psychological pain of hospitalized children on the day of the intervention.”  [bold face and bracketed text is mine;  find complete citations at the PNAS on-line]


The Neurochemistry of Empathy, Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc, Animated


What cortisol and oxytocin have to do with a 19th-century German playwright. 


From Future of Storytelling summit and neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity, comes this short film on empathy, neurochemistry, and the dramatic arc, directed and edited by my friend Kirby Ferguson and animated by Henrique Barone: https://youtu.be/DHeqQAKHh3M

Zak takes us inside his lab, where he studies how people respond to stories. What he found is that even the simplest narrative can elicit powerful empathic response by triggering the release of neurochemicals like cortisol and oxytocin, provided it is highly engaging and follows the classic dramatic arc outlined by the German playwright Gustav Freytag 150 years ago.

Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry — and that’s what it means to be a social creature.”

Complement with Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.[i]


Storytelling Is Intrinsically Mentalistic: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Narrative Production across Modalities.  Ye Yuan et al. (2022) J Cog Neurosci 30:9:1298–1314  

Abstract.  People utilize multiple expressive modalities for communicating narrative ideas about  past events. The three  major ones are speech,  pantomime, and drawing. The current  study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify common brain areas that mediate  narrative communication across these  three sensorimotor mechanisms. In the scanner, participants were presented with short narrative prompts  akin to newspaper  head- lines (e.g., “Surgeon  finds scissors inside of patient”).  The task was to generate  a representation of the event, either by describing it verbally through  speech,  by pantomiming  it gesturally, or by drawing it on a tablet. In a control condition  designed  to remove sensorimotor activations, participants described  the spatial properties of individual objects (e.g., “binoculars”).  Each of the three modality-specific subtractions produced similar results, with activations in key components of the mentalizing network,  including the TPJ, posterior  STS, and posterior  cingulate cortex. Conjunction  analysis revealed  that  these  areas constitute  a cross-modal “narrative hub” that transcends  the three modalities of communication. The involvement of these  areas in narrative production suggests that people  adopt  an intrinsically mentalistic and character-oriented perspective  when engaging in story-telling, whether  using speech,  pantomime, or drawing.”  [bold face, links, and bracketed text is mine;  find complete citations at Journal of Cognitive Science – Storytelling-Is-Intrinsically-Mentalistic]






Excerpted and glossed from:

The Evolution of Stories: from Mimesis to Language, from Fact to Fiction

Brian Boyd (2018)

“Why  a species as successful as Homo sapiens should spend so much time  in fiction,  in  telling  one  another stories that  neither side  believes, at  first  seems an evolutionary riddle. Because  of the  advantages of tracking and  recombining true information,  capacities  for  event comprehension, memory, imagination, and communication  evolved in  a  range of  animal  species—yet even   chimpanzees cannot communicate beyond the  here  and  now.  

By [the time of]  Homo erectus, our  forebears had reached an increasing dependence on one another,  not  least   in  sharing information in mimetic, prelinguistic ways.  As Daniel Dor shows, the  [selection] pressure to pool  ever  more information, even  beyond currently shared experience, led to the invention of language. Language in turn swiftly  unlocked efficient forms  of narrative,  allowing early  humans to  learn much more about their   kind  than they could  experience at first  hand, so that  they  could  cooperate and  compete better through understanding one  another more fully. This  changed the  payoff  of sociality  for individuals and  groups.

But true  narrative was  still limited to what  had already happened.  Once   the  strong  existing predisposition  to  play  combined with   existing  capacities  for  event comprehension, memory, imagination, language, and  narrative, we  could  begin to  invent fiction, and  to  explore the  full range of human possibilities in  concentrated, engaging, memorable forms.  First language, then narrative, then fiction, created niches that  altered selection pressures, and  made us  ever  more deeply dependent on  knowing more about our kind   and   our   risks   and   opportunities than we  could   discover through  direct experience.” 

Despite the meagerness of evidence, the cacophony of disciplines with often divergent assumptions, interests and  methods,  and  the continued  production of new hypotheses,  a surprisingly  convergent  account of the evolution  of narrative  and of fiction has begun to take  shape.  It depends  on the coevolution  of language,  narrative, and  play,  each  feeding  the  other, within  the  emerging  hypersociality  of Homo erectus as the species began to construct  its own sociocognitive niche.”   The entire paperis a rewarding read

[bold face, links, and bracketed text is mine;  find complete citations at https://wires.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/wcs.1444]






“There is an astonishing power to any story that attempts to grasp reality whole.  This power is quite independent of the success or failure of any particular attempt; the project itself is powerful, and fulfills deep needs.”

(David Christian, Maps of Time  (epilogue to Metanexus conference call for papers 2010)

Does this speak of the importance of bonding between story-teller and audience?




[i] The Storytelling Animal: The Science of How We Came to Live and Breathe Stories.  Where a third of our entire life goes, or what professional wrestling has to do with War and Peace.  BY MARIA POPOVA

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser memorably asserted, and Harvard sociobiologist E. O. Wilson recently pointed to the similarity between innovators in art and science, both of whom he called “dreamers and storytellers.” Stories aren’t merely essential to how we understand the world — they are how we understand the world. We weave and seek stories everywhere, from data visualization to children’s illustration to cultural hegemony. In The Storytelling Animal, educator and science writer Jonathan Gottschall traces the roots, both evolutionary and sociocultural, of the transfixing grip storytelling has on our hearts and minds, individually and collectively. What emerges is a kind of “unified theory of storytelling,” revealing not only our gift for manufacturing truthiness in the narratives we tell ourselves and others, but also the remarkable capacity of stories — the right kinds of them — to change our shared experience for the better.

Gottschall articulates a familiar mesmerism:

Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.

Joining these favorite book trailers is a wonderful short black-and-white teaser animation:

One particularly important aspect of storytelling Gottschall touches on is the osmotic balance between the writer’s intention and the reader’s interpretation, something Mortimer Adler argued for decades ago in his eloquent case for marginalia. Gottschall writes:

The writer is not … an all-powerful architect of our reading experience. The writer guides the way we imagine but does not determine it. A film begins with a writer producing a screenplay. But it is the director who brings the screenplay to life, filling in most of the details. So it is with any story. A writer lays down words, but they are inert. They need a catalyst to come to life. The catalyst is the reader’s imagination.

In discussing the extent to which we live in stories, Gottschall puts in concrete terms something most of us suspect — fear, perhaps — on an abstract, intuitive level: the astounding amount of time we spend daydreaming.

Clever scientific studies involving beepers and diaries suggest that an average daydream is about fourteen seconds long and that we have about two thousand of them per day. In other words, we spend about half of our waking hours — one-third of our lives on earth — spinning fantasies. We daydream about the past: things we should have said or done, working through our victories and failures. We daydream about mundane stuff such as imagining different ways of handling conflict at work. But we also daydream in a much more intense, storylike way. We screen films with happy endings in our minds, where all our wishes — vain, aggressive, dirty — come true. And we screen little horror films, too, in which our worst fears are realized.

From War and Peace to pro wrestling, from REM sleep to the “fictional screen media” of commercials, from our small serialized personal stories on Facebook and Twitter to the large cultural stories of religious traditions, The Storytelling Animal dives into what science knows — and what it’s still trying to find out — about our propensity for storytelling to reveal not only the science of story but also its seemingly mystical yet palpably present power.

[ii] The Tyranny of the Tale. By Parul Sehgal (July 3, 2023) The New Yorker. July 10 & 17, 2023 Issue  (We’re told that story will set us free. But what if a narrative frame is also a cage?)