Moral History – Part 3

Link to Moral History Part 1

Link to Moral History Part 2

Final Thoughts

Stories are motivators and perspective-influencers that enable us to behave in certain ways in order to achieve particular goals.  Like the main character in the film Memento, we concoct believable stories that ultimately determine our actions, irrespective of what the objective reality may be.  These stories are true to the extent that they match how we behave and feel about the world, whether past, present or future.  Maybe if we could somehow objectively tally all our childhood experiences and then demonstrate that they were not just different from our story, but that they weren’t anywhere near as bad, then we might be able to affect the future. 

Your history, thoughts, decisions and behaviours have less to do with reality, and more to do with whatever you happen to believe.  Unless we have easy access to the objective facts in all situations, it’s likely that we will just make do with whatever story fits our current goals, mindset, ideals and fears and so on.  But on the other hand if all we have is facts, it also seems necessary that they be integrated into an artful story in order to have the greatest impact.

On the one hand I believe in a world without opinions, as Jacque Fresco put it, where politics is not a competition of tribal personalities, but a structure based on not just the use of science to determine the best answers, but also the best questions.  In many ways we need to break free from our stories if we are to change things for the better, because after all, the story is a tool with which to achieve a goal, but often times the objective truth of that story actually presents an obstacle to progress.  Stories can have an expiry date, so although a particular idea served a purpose in some place and time in the past, as times and circumstances change, so does the need for different stories.

So while I recognise the need for more rational, data-driven approaches, I think that we need to find ways of incorporating them into our story-based societies, which can only come from a deeper investigation into how fiction functions on our psychology, and from a greater understanding and acknowledgement of the ever-increasing differences between the modern world and our ancestral environments.  These issues may be becoming more pressing as technology advances, particularly in the areas of virtual reality, computer games, and other story-telling media.

When we know what the theme of the moral history is we stick to it, and to telling the stories that match it, in a way that matches it.  The moral history is a tape to be played and replayed, the act of playing the tape is for the sake of confirmation, preservation and reassurance.  Playing the tape is an affirmation of agreement with the theme and its implications, therefore it is also a signal of group affiliation.

Studium is the moral history of any particular photograph.

Conceptual metaphors/narratives/moral histories cannot be false, because they are merely lenses with which to view the world.  A conceptual metaphor says “I feel..” or as proposed before, a hypothetical question is a suggestion to try a particular lens or simulation, so saying that a conceptual metaphor is wrong is like saying that a particular feeling or emotion is wrong i.e. there is a clash due to a mistake in judging one by the terms of the other.

If fiction is a simulator we can look at all instances of fiction as posing us a question – “what if?…” “How would you feel?” “How would you react?” We can view all hypotheticals as invitations into a particular simulation.

Moral histories favour groups – we can’t as individuals, get actual facts and use them in relation to a group (generalisation).

The narrative cannot be killed, therefore what we are really searching for is the narrative with the most predictive and instructive power.

Evidence for our own narratives is not the same as normal evidence, and is much easier to come across due to confirmation bias.

Generalisation is a coping mechanism for our inability to deal with life on its own terms.  A generalisation is a metaphorical group; a solid, tangible and well-defined form where none exists.  It’s much easier to keep a list of rules of thumb, than it is to keep a list of exceptions for each rule.  As group size increases, the reliability of rules of thumb decreases, and the generalisation becomes more general, with its boundaries becoming increasingly blurred.  Humans are not fact or data-gathering machines, so although we may have ideas and intuitions about a group for example, it’s very different from being able to handle and analyse real statistics about them.  In a scientific experiment, the larger the group size, the more reliable the results become, which shows how our own biases are responsible for forming any impressions of coherence that we may latch onto when we generalise.

As individuals we don’t have access to the facts and data about the world before us, we only have impressions and make decisions on that basis.  This is why moral history is collective wisdom, intuited and passed down through the generations, felt emotionally and instinctively.  Facts can be arrived at by stepping outside of our habitual ways of being and by applying counter-intuitive methods.

The statistical history is not instructive, due to it being devoid of emotion.  There are no rights or wrongs to it, only what did or did not happen.  Data is a neutral observer who is merely there to report the facts, while moral history makes no bones about picking sides and calling names.

Without moral history, without a narrative running throughout time, our actions would be meaningless if we were to act at all.  A moral history provides the backdrop for our lives, bringing struggles into focus and driving us forward.

The idea of living without a narrative is like trying to remove all filters and personal biases, which is not only impossible, it is also undesirable.  Each time we choose one thing over another we are restricting our perspectives and the list of possible outcomes to a very specific and finite set.  These choices are encapsulated by narratives, even when we want to live rational lives dedicated to studying science.

A choice of either data or moral history is a false dichotomy because their purposes and effects are entirely different. Instead, as I see it, data should be incorporated into our narratives in order to benefit from both simultaneously, and maximally.  A super-narrative will be composed of emotional elements that stimulate the most involvement, while resulting in outcomes that are more reliable and beneficial due to their grounding in fact.

We should want to have reliable narratives rather than ones that are simply emotionally appealing.  We should want to be right, instead of just winning.

If the truth does on average lead us to be more competent and successful as a species, the super-narrative should naturally arise as a consequence.  Narratives entirely devoid of beneficial effects will soon die out.  The ideal narrative is accurate in its predictions and clear in its instructions, yet is not a mere statement of fact.

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