Science as “competitive storytelling”

Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker considers several books that attempt to sell a version of secular Buddhism to the American public.

Our feelings ceaselessly generate narratives, contes moraux, about the world, and we become their prisoners. We make things good and bad, desirable and not, meaningful and trivial. (We put snappy titles on our tales and then the titles own us.)… Meditation shows us how anything can be emptied of the story we tell about it:

But the books themselves impose stories onto the practice of Buddhism and meditation, specifically scientific stories that attempt to measure and explain the impact of meditation on the human brain.

Gopnik writes:

What Wright correctly sees as the heart of meditation practice—the draining away of the stories we tell compulsively about each moment in favor of simply having the moment—is antithetical to the kind of evidentiary argument he admires. Science is competitive storytelling.

It’s a great sentence.  Science is competitive storytelling.  I suspect it’s true in more ways than Gopnik thinks.


Neuroreductionism: “the tendency to perceive human experiences as valid or genuine only when they can be linked to measurable brain activity”

In Reason, Stanton Peele is skeptical that brain studies can tell us much about the nature of addiction: “Addiction is a specific involvement a person forms in a particular period in his life. Nothing more scientific can be said than that.”

I once heard a scientist – can’t remember who – say that interpreting brain-imaging scans is like looking down from an airplane at night and trying to figure out what people are talking about in their living rooms by interpreting the pattern of the lights.