Toward a common narrative

Allan HavinlingUncategorized1 Comment

There have been many expressions which are either wholly new or have been given new meaning in the last 30 years or so. I generally approve of the additions to our language, thinking them either more precise, more honest, or both, than what we had before. Think of “going forward” instead of “from now on”, or ending correspondence with “Thanks” rather than “Sincerely Yours”, which was neither sincere nor a prelude to slavery. Not to mention the fact that almost any noun can now be turned into a verb (“verbed”, as it were 🙂 ).

But there is one word use that relates closely to our epistemology, and that is “narrative”. I mean here “narrative” in the sense the journalists use it in discussing politicians. In this sense, a narrative is a story that you overlay reality with, so that it can be understood in a way that supports your cause. This certainly doesn’t *sound* more precise or more honest, nor a word to be embraced by Popper’s Inversion, but hear me out. Only the extensive *use* of the word “narrative” in this sense is new. The use of narratives is neither new nor aberrant nor even avoidable. I was thinking about this while drinking a glass of water. Reality does not give me a glass. Reality gives me *something*, a universe, and I cordon off a piece of it and call it a “glass”. Why? Because it serves me to do so. A spider would not regard it in the same light, and may not even draw a distinction between it and the table. The glass is only a glass in *my* narrative. If people were to embrace the word “narrative” in everyday conversation, then they could not help but admit that we shape our reality as we observe it. When I was a young man we did not “narrate” reality; we either admitted the truth or were lying about it. The procedure of ascertaining the truth? There wasn’t one, or at least not one we held in common. Most of the time we just “winged” it. Popper’s Inversion wants us to stop winging it and agree to a common coherent baseline procedure to sort “correct” assertions from “incorrect” ones, with full “eyes open” knowledge that what we will be creating is a common narrative. We believe that in our present “post truth” world – of Trump and Putin, global warming, failing states, and “believe whatever your heart tells you” – a common narrative is what we most desperately need.

One Comment on ““Toward a common narrative”

  1. Doug Freyburger

    Humans understand through stories. This is why there are allegories in religions. This is why there are thought experiments in science.

    Of course the model of using objective evidence is a narrative story. The difference is it gives us error bars. We don’t decide based on what we think – Aristotle insisted that heavy objects fall faster. We don’t decide based on what we feel – Except in politics of course. But we judge anti-vax activists not just as nuts but as evil for going by their feelings.

    This forum builds a narrative, and that’s a good thing. As well as being a good way to describe the intent.

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