consciousness & storytelling

Damasio consistently uses storytelling metaphors to describe the different ways that consciousness works, and they do indeed “illustrate the range of roles that the self assumes in the mind,” as he hopes they will in Self Comes to Mind (13). Storytelling has always been a reflection of consciousness, a projection of our mind’s images, maps, and representations into a shared medium. It’s our way of interfacing an intrinsically solitary experience with each other.

Storytelling is also how we make sense of the interminable sequence of events that we face from the moment our consciousness comes online (to borrow Louis CK’s phrasing). It is definitely, like Damasio says, part documentary and part fiction. Our interpretation and sense of self imbues the world around us more and more as the accrual of life experience solidifies a firm sense of self. This is the “autobiographical self” that is a construct of all the “movies” in one’s brain. It’s how we make sense of our emotions outside of the moment we experience them, and shapes our vision of the past and future. We all tell ourselves stories about why x y or z will happen since a b or c already happened, or that this is this way because that happened that way. Extended consciousness creates an abstract world outside of the moment, a world of story informed by what the core consciousness experiences in each passing moment.

Since core consciousness is concerned only with the present moment, it seems to me to be the goal of all meditative or contemplative practice. To live in a constant state of it would mean the dissolution of the ego, which might sound spiritually ideal, but probably isn’t the most optimal way to live amongst others. But it is of interest to me how experiences that help one return to core consciousness (and I say return because I think Damasio makes it clear that extended consciousness is contingent on core consciousness, implying some kind of consequential sequence between the two) can be integrated into ones every day experience of extended consciousness in a positive way, alleviating agitated states of being, like stress or anxiety. I’m curious about the synergy between the two states.

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One Response to consciousness & storytelling

  1. Damasio’s storytelling is one of few things, if not the only thing, that kept me focused on the text. Even the mentions of known storytellers–Fitzgerald here, Twain there–pulled me back into the text when I found my mind wandering. I guess it’s not too surprising that I prefer stories and even just quotes by famous writers to science-speak; I am in an English program and not a Neuroscience program, after all; but like you, it got me to thinking about storytelling in general and its hold on the human mind, or the human consciousness, or whatever. It’s something we talked about in my Myth and Archetype class last semester. I also googled “Why do people like stories?” out of curiosity. The top result was “Can Science Explain Why We Tell Stories?” from the New Yorker (link). I admit that I was in a bit of a rush when I pulled up the article and I’m in a rush now, but one line jumped out at me as I was skimming the article: “Everything–faith, science, love–needs a story for people to find it plausible.” Makes sense.

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