Stories mediate conscious experience and form the basis of reality as we know it.
This aligns with everything I’ve read and know about philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, theology, religion, and the methods of science… stories and narratives form the basis of our conscious experience; they are the hallmark of the human condition, and what separate us from all animals.
Everything I’ve read and experienced and reflected upon confirms this.
My studies have made it more and more evident throughout the years, but the book Sapiens boldly distills broad empirical research to support it.
It’s difficult to wrap the mind around what this means exactly, and see it’s far reaching implications. It’s difficult because, our minds are embedded in narratives, embedded within stories that mediate our conscious experience. These stories or narratives operate unconsciously, like programs running on your computer, like an eye trying to examine itself without a mirror.
But they impact our ability to perceive, to engage with reality in different ways, even our ability to see and hear phenomena directly acting upon us. The stories we become conditioned to either enhance our ability to perceive and adapt and explain and engage with our world, or limit it.
We only hear what we understand.
“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
“When we change the way we look at the world, the world we look at changes.”
Contemplation and reflection are the mechanisms which allow the mind to examine itself and it’s unconscious assumptions, to detach from ideas— the thoughts and feelings produced by stories— and identify inconsistencies and contradictions and paradoxes (problems) that create dissonance and discomfort and suffering (pain). Reflection is the basis of all enlightenment, and how we reconcile conflicting stories and the beliefs they produce.
Every story and narrative mediates our experience with the world. They act as a filter that organizes data and information for our senses and the faculties of our mind that we can then use to make decisions.
Every story has contradictions and inconsistencies, because no story completely explains everything about our world, because our world is always changing and evolving.
If we believe our story is absolutely “True”, we won’t revise our stories and change our beliefs. As a result, we will want to revise and change the world to conform to our narrative. The latter is incompatible with the highest realization: impermanence is the only permanence; change is the only constant.
It is the philosophers and critical thinkers duty to expose those inconsistencies and contradictions, so we can revise our stories, update our webs of belief, and provide a more comprehensive story and understanding of the world.
Our ability to choose a story relies on our understanding of the relative nature of our conscious experience. Traveling and exposure to new cultures, reading books, meeting and befriend those with different beliefs, (even taking psychedelics), all enlarge our understanding that Truth is not an absolute construct. The stories that form the basis of our beliefs all mediate our perception of Truth.
Those who share the same stories agree to the same truths, and see the same world. Those that don’t have fundamental contradictions about what is.
Stories vary in simplicity and complexity, and therefore have a spectrum of explanatory power. The stories of hard sciences may not possess the same utility as religion or Jung’s theories of mind when treating psychological illness. Likewise, the stories of religion may not possess the same utility as hard science when treating physiological illness, or solving environmental crises.
Placebo’s (stories that have no basis to the material world) have consistently been shown to be more powerful than many pharmaceutical treatments.
The only explanation is the power of stories, and the mind’s power to manifest the experience it believes in.
The basis of personal development and self-mastery lies in the understanding and acceptance that we can update and revise personal narratives and beliefs that alter our behavior and lead to desirable results.
We are not fixed, static creatures, unless we refuse to let go of limiting stories and beliefs.
It is difficult to let go of assumptions that have deep emotional attachment. Many people are unable to accept that their conscious experience is relative, that their experiences are not True, in the capital T sense. Your conscious experience is true according to your story, and anyone who shares your story.
Your feelings and thoughts are real. You cannot tell someone they are not. But it’s not the whole story. Those feelings and thoughts are not “necessarily” true. There are other ways to feel and think about the same events and people and ideas.
Your conscious experience is limited to the stories you are conditioned to believe about the world. Pain and pleasure and everything in between. And those who share your story affirm your beliefs and reinforce the conditioning of those stories, which in turn operate more pervasively as unconscious assumptions of the world, as cosmic Truth.
In this way it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the relative nature of the conscious experience, and examine personal narratives and the beliefs they produce in ways that allow for the adoption of updated stories, which stimulate growth and enlightenment and progress towards harmony and flourishing.
Because self-preservation is the highest aim and prerogative of all life, and because life requires constant adaptation to maintain equilibrium, it would seem evident that stories which allow us to revise and update themselves, to accommodate new information about the world, and enhance our explanatory power about the world, would be the best operating narrative. This is precisely the task of science and philosophy.
By examining a story’s explanatory power, we can evaluate its utility and merit, and determine if it’s good or bad, if it should be adopted or rejected.
Every group of humans possess narratives. Some are global, like religious stories, and some are local, like cultural traditions, or personal historical narratives. Some are specific to domains or subjects of thought, like the mind (psychology) or society (sociology) or the body (medicine), and some the world (geology) and life (biology), and some deal with abstractions (mathematics and physics) and methods (philosophy) for organizing experience in an intelligible way.
It’s important to realize that stories provide meaning. They guide our behaviors and provide a moral framework for action and productive social collaboration, and point us toward a worthwhile purpose to struggle and labor after.
Because there are endless stories to tell, and endless stories that exist, one may conclude a nihilistic attitude, that all is meaningless.
It is accurate to say that no story possesses inherent meaning, other than the meaning that the collective imagination gives it. But that is meaning. Realizing that there is no inherent meaning imposed by transcendental truths establishes a freedom to create stories and meaning relative to your experience, which allows you to be the hero, the protagonist, rather than a spectator caught in stories imposed by others, such as religious orthodoxy, demagogues and charismatic personalities, or brand advertising that reinforce cultural values such as consumerism.
You can create your own story, and live it out, with the peace of mind that you have a purpose as fulfilling and meaningful as any story you would have inherited.
Ultimately, stories (which organize our perceptions and form the basis of beliefs) manifest our conscious experience, and explain:
- Why placebos work
- Why self help works
- Why brainwashing works
- Why religious people insist on their religious experiences
- Why people who believe in supernatural shit seem to also experience it (I don’t believe, so I will never experience it)
- Why propaganda works
- Why paradigm shifts occur
- Why political parties have such divisive narratives
- Why brands are so powerful
- Why spiritual phenomena seems to exist for believers