Communion Of Dreams

The Storytellers.

You should read this: Born to Be Conned. Seriously, it’s a very good examination of the human tendency to construct narratives to explain the world around us, and how that trait can easily be manipulated and used against us. Here’s a good passage, explaining why we’re susceptible to grifters of every sort:

Stories are one of the most powerful forces of persuasion available to us, especially stories that fit in with our view of what the world should be like. Facts can be contested. Stories are far trickier. I can dismiss someone’s logic, but dismissing how I feel is harder.

And the stories the grifter tells aren’t real-world narratives — reality-as-is is dispiriting and boring. They are tales that seem true, but are actually a manipulation of reality. The best confidence artist makes us feel not as if we’re being taken for a ride but as if we are genuinely wonderful human beings who are acting the way wonderful human beings act and getting what we deserve. We like to feel that we are exceptional, and exceptional individuals are not chumps.

The piece also reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, because of this insight:

Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself.

I don’t mean to pick on religion here, just to point out that this is a very human trait. In fact, I have often wondered whether it is a defining human characteristic, something which could easily set us apart from other intelligent species. It’s fairly easy to imagine how intelligent, sophisticated, technologically-advanced civilizations could be constructed by species which don’t have this human gift for storytelling. You can, after all, have curiosity and scientific inquiry, art and poetry, even narrative and historiography, without having something like literary fiction.* I think that it might be interesting to write a science fiction story/series based on the premise that humans become the storytellers of the galaxy, because of our unique ability to create explanation narratives unrelated to reality.

How very meta.


Jim Downey
*Of course.

“And it exploded.”*

A bit of an apology to any who feel they deserve it:  I intentionally understated just how bad my wife’s acute appendicitis was earlier this week. Once she had surgery and was admitted to the hospital we knew that she was going to be fine with a few days of intense care, and I didn’t want to get people overly concerned about what her condition had been.  Which was, frankly, really bad. Following the surgery, this is pretty much how the surgeon characterized it:

Seriously, that’s what happened. The surgeon said that the appendix hadn’t just ruptured, it had “basically exploded, with pieces all through her abdomen. A real mess.”

So, now that she’s been cleared to return home tomorrow, I thought I’d offer my apologies. Earlier I wanted to let people know that she was in the hospital, and why, but I didn’t want to get everyone too worked up over a crisis which had already passed. Sorry about being misleading. And thanks for your support.


Jim Downey

*If you didn’t instantly think of this scene just from that phrase … well, you need to watch Galaxy Quest again, as it has obviously been too long. When I discussed posting this with my wife, we both had a good chuckle over the fact that she had also thought of the exact same scene when the surgeon told us what had happened. Yeah, we’re weird like that.