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.

Ingredients of the Primordial Soup…

Here’s where I’m coming from:

(1) completed English major at a liberal arts college (Pomona College)

(2) trained as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company

(3) studied psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics at UCLA in preparation for a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience that I never completed

(4) Completed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program

(5) Well-read (but incompletely self-educated) in evolutionary psychology, behavioral economics, and macroeconomics

In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that I also have a fair bit of training in film-making and storytelling, including a certificate in screenwriting from UCLA Extension and completion of the PBS Producers Workshop.  I mention this only because my understanding of storytelling has informed my understanding of human psych, perhaps even more than my 2 years studying cognitive neuroscience!

More about this later….