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Real Life

Posted on the 16 May 2014 by Steveawiggins @stawiggins

WiredForStoryThe brain, it seems to me, holds all of the cards. After all, what we call “reality” is actually a perception of what’s “really” there mediated by our brains. Philosophers and scientists have long warned us that direct participation with the universe is a figment of the, um, brain. This kind of thinking may have led me to trouble in certain jobs I’ve held, but there is no escaping it, unless we posit that there is another thinking center in the body. If there is, it must be invisible. As a dabbler in the literary arts, I couldn’t therefore pass up Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. The premise spawns one of those “aha” moments so large that you wonder why nobody had tripped upon it before: brain science can reveal what makes a good story. For example, were I smarter, I would’ve begun with that wonderfully witty story told by Uncle Frank that kept us engrossed as kids, and left us roaring with leonine laughter. Only I don’t have an Uncle Frank, and the stories I grew up with were of the written species.

Cron, however, reminds us of a very important point: if it weren’t for feeling, thought would not be possible. This isn’t telling tales out of school. Even the most Spock-like rationalists know it’s true: emotions are essential to the thought process. Even the most proficient of thinkers can be stopped by the vague, “I don’t feel like—” (fill in the blank). To think well, we must feel that we can. When we greet someone we don’t lead with “how are you thinking?” but with “how are you feeling?” (often apocopated to “how are you?”). We interpret our world through a combination of reason and emotion. Both are necessary for survival. Think about it: does the world really make sense?

In writing, emotion plays an essential role. We lay aside the story that makes us feel nothing. Reductionistic materialists often espouse that getting down to the smallest piece of the smallest particle will eventually explain it all. The more spiritually inclined will ask them how it makes them feel. Emotion is the under-appreciated of these twins. While great ideas may come through in a novel (I can’t help but mention Moby Dick again), it is the feeling of the protagonist—the spiritual (call it what you will) struggle—that draws us in and keeps us reading. It may be secular or religious, but the realm of emotion reminds us that to be human is to feel. And if by chance you’re still reading this, I have a feeling that you might agree.

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