ART & ORGANISM
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.
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” (Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, iv.ii )
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 Facts 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)
OLIVER SACKS – on-narrative-and-personhood/
CAN WE MODEL THE WAY THE BRAIN ORGANIZES INFORMATION?
“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 ﬁxation2 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)
“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.
BY MARIA POPOVA
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]
STORY-TELLING: IS THE MEDIUM THE MESSAGE?
“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.