The human brain is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Unlike animals, we have an ability to appreciate humor, we have an awareness of death, a concept of consciousness and an ability to understand time and space.
Humans possess the most complex brains of any mammal, with a number and density of neurons that allows for highly complex thought. This density allows for infinite numbers of thought and for infinite numbers of individual brains. This type of variability is part of what gives humans their unique consciousness. It is difficult to define the sense of “me” that humans have, the sense that we are capable of change, of moral decisions. The complexity that allows for this has evolved over millions of years. It is thought that the first ape-like humans split off from apes at around 5 to 7 million years ago. The reasons that larger brains were continually selected for over the next several million years is unclear. Considering the great amounts of energy needed to support such a brain during fetal development and during life itself, the benefits must have been enormous. These benefits probably included the ability to continually make more complex tools that allowed humans to take more efficient advantage of the resources around them, the ability to understand and control fire, and the ability to think creatively to escape predators and threats involving the elements. Whatever the reason, brain size continued to increase, from the first apelike humans to the slightly more human-like Australopithecines to the early homo sapiens, later humans, and their cousins the Neanderthals.(1)
The human experience is so vastly different from individual to individual, what can be a traumatic event to one can be exhilarating to another. Most of what we know and decide upon is a matter of personal taste and experience, yet there is an underlying thread that all of us share: We are all writing our own personal narratives.
What makes a man join the military? Why does a woman become a doctor? On the surface it would appear that we do these things for personal gain; the soldier wants glory the doctor wants to make a difference. Beneath that, there are more selfish reasons; the doctor wants the high income, the soldier has no education and no other job prospects. Beneath THAT though is the thread that connects them, the narrative path of their life. Every single culture on this planet has a slogan for how to live and how to die, from the United States to America you will find all kinds of ideas on how one should live and how one should perish. Yet every human being on the planet casts themselves as the star in their own lives.
I recently saw a speaker on Ted Talk who spoke of the human brain’s ability to recognize patterns. By looking at past behavior we can predict the outcome of future events. Psychologists call it human insight, I call it the human narrative. How else would a brain develop an ability to conceptualize the past, present and future except by forming stories about things? Scientists believe when you see a dog, your memory brings up past information on the subject. I believe that when you see a dog, your brain accesses every story you’ve ever heard about dogs. The choices you make, whether to pet the dog, run away or fight it, is determined by how you decide to cast yourself in the current plot twist in your life. Every single thing you do in your life is decided minute by minute by which role you want to play in the story you are engaged in.
It sounds crazy but think about it for a moment. How many illogical acts can be explained with this theory?
What makes a person bomb a crowd of people? What makes a woman drown her children and kill herself? What makes a man dive into a raging river to save a dog? On a micro scale, you can say each person was perhaps influenced by feelings and emotions but on a macro scale, they were choosing the story they wanted their lives to follow. Often they see a totally different ending than the rest of us do; the terrorist will be a hero, the mother will be a saint, the man will not drown and the dog survive, etc. We cannot control the forces of nature but we can control how we react to them and that is determined by the knowledge, the stories that we carry inside our minds.
If you don’t believe this is true, ask a married couple, individually, what their marriage is like. You will hear two different ideas. Ask them where they wish their lives to be in 2 or 3 decades and you’ll get two distinctly different narratives. By comparing similarities, you can get an idea of how happy and well-matched a couple is.
Another example is the police force. How can the police mistake a child for a dangerous killer? How can they shoot an old woman and not have a good explanation? It seems like a stupid, simple, mistake but there was an old saying about walking a mile in their shoes. The police live different lives, with different story beats, narratives and characterization. When you understand their perspective, you can see how they make these mistakes. It doesn’t make it right, but then what is right and wrong except moral stories of how we should act?
This is the reason why monotheistic religions dominate this planet; it is not so much that we are all sheep to a bloody God but that we are all a rapt, attentive audience to a great yarn. The story of planet Earth roars through time and we piggyback on it, telling each other stories of how we want to live from the dark caves to the space stations. What are ideas but stories free of plot and character? A good idea is a good seed for a great story.
As I said earlier on, when you look at the micro scale, the stories of our lives, we can see how people make choices and follow certain paths to certain goals. However, when you move back, the Primitive Narrative takes on a scarier shape. On a macro scale, governments have been controlling us through stories for years. The media does nothing more than shape the agenda of the current culture by framing the stories of our lives into a larger narrative that they control. In every single dystopian novel the population was controlled not through force, but through myth.
In the Matrix, humans believed they were living normal lives in the 20th century, the robots lied to them with stories of their old lives. In 1984 the population is kept relatively powerless through tales of constant war and shortages of goods. The Matrix is a great example because ultimately the heroes won by creating a hero myth; the story of freedom they believed in, the story of Neo, was ultimately what lead them to freedom.
Our current civilization is going through a heavy upheaval, not because of fossil fuels or economic strife or evolution but because of the information age. The internet has connected everyone and everything on this planet; the different stories that guided small communities or larger countries have come crashing together. What is an American? What is an Egyptian? How do they define themselves? The less interaction people have with each other, the more likely they are to have diverse stories, as each micro group develops their own larger narrative. All of the stories have come crashing together inside the hard drives and memory banks, streaming out into web pages and cell phones and digital televisions. I finally decided to share this concept with people because I am sick of standing outside the curtain, shouting at people that the Wizard is not real, he’s just a guy behind a curtain. We are living in a very dangerous time right now, because the new narrative of the future is coming. Very soon someone, somewhere will create the idea of the future of this planet. Perhaps they already have. This idea will be guided and shaped by technology; the past does not need to be rewritten when it can be revamped, remade, relaunched and rebooted. If this new theory is bad, we are looking at possibly thousands of years of misery and it is important for us as people to see the stories for what they are and choose a better one for our descendants.
As hard as it is for us to accept, the story of our lives is not about us as individuals, we are but bit players in the story of humanity. We must be aware of the harmful and deceitful stories that people try to use to manipulate and control us. We must not fear the negative plot twists that come and go through our lives. If you can’t tell better stories to benefit the world, at the very least stop spreading the lies. Who are we anyway except actors wearing masks in a story we do not control? But being aware of the fiction, knowing you are on stage, is the difference between being free and being a slave.
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.