The Emergence and (continuing) Evolution
of the Story of Story Telling

Paul Grobstein

Emergent Systems Group
8, 15 November 2005

BACKGROUND:

No "Truth" nor "Reality" available as guide
Because of the brain, it's all "story"
Don't need "Truth" nor "Reality"
Can reduce social conflict without them
Can better understand both aspects of mind/brain and social organization without them .... emergence with fuschia dots
DO need ability to discriminate between (at least some) stories
Shmuckiness, breadth, and generativity? = commitment to emergence?

From conversation on On Beyond ...

Accept/understand the need to provide some clearer measure of "generativity". Think though that we made some progress on that problem. It relates not to "all time" but to recent time, to time during which a comparison between two stories can in fact be made (just as there is no useful way (for present purposes) to compare generativity of bacteria versus humans across all of evolution; one can only attempt to compare generativity over periods when both existed). And, equally important, the measure is always a "bet", ie it is a projection of likely productivity in time to come. A "scientist" (and others?) puts his/her money on a guess about the future generativity of a story made in the present based on the past, and may or may not be be correct about it. Only time will tell.

That thought in turn connects to two other issues that arose in our conversation that seem to me worth highlighting. The first is that most of us are most of the time probably not aware of the criteria we use to adjudicate between stories. Trying to make this explicit (conscious) in my own case was a part of the exercise and, obviously, I'm arguing this would be helpful in general (many conflicts actually reflect differences in criteria rather than differences in any intrinsic value of the stories). The second is that distinguishing between stories using one set of criteria need not preclude a given person in the same case making different distinctions using different criteria in a different context. The story of the earth as flat is a very useful one in some contexts even if its generativity is low. Adjudicating between stories based on their likely generativity doesn't inevitably require that other stories disappear, though it does make it perhaps more likely that some will (the parallels to biological evolution, involving innovation, persistance, and extinction are, I suspect, very close).

Another important point that came out in our discussion was that people differ in the degree to which "generativity" seems like a good criterion on which to discriminate between stories, for a variety of reasons including life experiences, and, I suspect, genetic predispositions. And I'd be the last person in the world to argue that we want more homogeneity in this regard (see Diversity and Deviance. At the same time, part of the point of the talk was that there are a number of existing problems, both social and individual, that might be eased by developing the inclination to use generativity as a primary basis for story adjudication, at least in particular contexts.

IF/when one begins to have the feeling that there really ISN'T any such thing as "Truth" or "Reality" outside oneself, at least not a useful one that one can rely on as a fixed and stable motivator of and guide to one's own behavior, AND one has the feeling that PC/postmodernist solipsism (all stories are equally good) is not an adequate response to this feeling, THEN the notion of generativity as a primary basis for story adjudication has some appeal. It doesn't by any means relieve one of the obligations of making choices and of personal responsiblity for one's behavior (as does pure solipsism or "primary schuckiness"). It does, however, in combination with an appreciation of the "bipartite brain", give one grounds for action despite knowing that there is no single justifiable story and, perhaps even more importantly, an authorization to sometimes act simply and only because one "feels" that is what should be done ("reflective shmuckiness, which treats action not as something to be justified in the present based on the past but rather as something being done in the present to make (and be evaluated by) the future).

Issues from 8 November conversation:

Appiah (following lecture last week)

Let's look at this the way a mathematicion would (euclidian -> non-euclidian geometry by changing axioms, to see what happens; what is at issue is not the axioms but what follows from them) Evaluating THIS story (in its own terms) How broad is the story? What WAS I trying to make sense of? How generative is it? The psychological piece ...

The social piece ...

And extensions into

Maybe there is actually a there there?
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