We want to continue to emphasize the subtitle of our Good Stories course: Teaching Narratives for Peace and Justice. When we work with Good Stories, how are we advancing our prospects for moving further in capacity for building a peaceful world, both inside ourselves and with others? Several concepts developed in our textbook, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Brian Boyd, are especially important in relation to this.
Explanation of Four Themes
1. Let’s continue focusing on metarepresentation. This concept explains how we are able to move across the levels as we translate from the story images to the local and individual levels. For example, in Buried Treasure, we abstract an archetypal image like the “tatema” that Luis is given. For another example of the treasure archetype, we imagine a representation for the “water of life” in Golden Water.
As we move from the detail in the story to the abstract idea, we are doing meta-representation: the box with silver coins is recognized as “treasure” which could also be seen as the coin Jack gets, as the puppy Epaminondas receives, and as the golden water found by the youngest sister. This amplification enriches our ability to see the treasure in a variety of forms or representations. Each of us has access to treasures, but they are easily missed unless we develop vision to see them in varied forms and to see potential the way the Creator does with the speck of mud retrieved by Little Coot in Beginnings.
When we have the abstract image (in other words, when we “meta-represent”), we are then prepared to translate the quality across into the other levels. For example, look at how we are finding the “treasure” in our selection of a college major. If we make the fitting choice, this field of study provides riches for ourselves and for others. One treasure comes in the joy of learning (Individual Level: Inner), another is the ability to earn a living (Individual Level: Outer), and a third could be the benefits that the knowledge and skills provide for others through the applications in the world (Local Level). If a person makes the right choice on engineering, he or she should love learning about it and the projects he or she develops could provide valuable structures for others.
Working with stories exercises our capacity for metarepresentation, and we can use that developed capacity throughout life in ways that support peace and justice.
2. The theme of cooperation is perhaps the most important component needed at our time in history in order for the advance of peace and justice. Working with stories contributes by showing us examples and by developing our ability for empathy. The story about Kanu and the Strangers is a prime example. We see the chief of the village model the ability to anticipate strangeness as virtue, and when we identify with one of the strangers we befriend aspects of ourselves that have been isolated and devalued (cf, Daniel Deardorff, The Other Within). This modeling and inner development enables us to participate in social change that reduces hostility and enhances equal opportunity.
Boyd emphasizes this theme throughout his book because fiction (story) gives us practice with taking on the role of others who model character traits we need to build. For example, we may better appreciate patience by empathizing with Psyche; we may build capacity for courage and the judgment needed to meet with dangers by joining Kanu’s team as they accepted and enacted the challenge of bringing back the daughter of the village. This quest can be seen as bringing back the emergent feminine qualities such as cooperation that are essential for sustaining collaborative life.
Boyd elaborates on the theme of collaboration:
We need to infer others' predispositions and their likely intentions and actions, which may in turn be based in part on their attempts to guess ours. If this hypothesis is correct, higher intelligence emerged primarily as social intelligence, through a cognitive arms race to understand conspecifics and to reveal to or conceal from others our own beliefs, desires, and intentions. Because theory of mind was first opened as a field to explore within primatology, the social intelligence hypothesis was first called the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis. Chimpanzees seek to understand one another especially in order to compete, sometimes by deception, for food, sex, or status. But researchers have begun to realize that we have probably reached our unique human level of theory of mind through pressures to cooperate more closely against other groups: we understand one another so much better because unlike chimpanzees we have crossed a cooperation divide and from infancy have a greater motivation to social engagement and shared attention than any other species.[note 68 Wilson, Evolution for Everyone; ] (p. 141-2; Kindle Locations 1597-1603).
During their fifth year, children grow into a distinctively human theory of mind, capable of metarepresentation--of understanding the process of representation--and involving beliefs as well as desires, goals, and intentions, a state that no other animal appears to reach. At this higher, exclusively human level, theory of mind becomes not only an intuitive psychology but an intuitive epistemology. No wonder it is hard to attain, even though as adults we employ it effortlessly. (bold emphasis, mine; p. 145; Kindle Locations 1640-1647).
3. The empathy we develop through feeling with a character in a story can expand our understanding of the attitudes, values, and behaviors needed to cooperate, to accept differences (like Kanu does), and to expand our value system in ways that extend justice. Boyd elaborates on empathy: Empathy arises from recognizing others' goals and desires, a capacity necessary in an individualized social species. (p. 138; Kindle Location 1561).
A third aspect of the theory of bonds is social exchange. In the human case this extends far further than in any other individualized society and has led to the evolution of a complex suite of moral emotions to solve problems of trust and commitment.[note 55] We can observe the basis for human moral emotions in other animals, especially primates: empathy, which as Darwin noted makes individuals much more able to live in groups; [note 56] a sense of fairness and self-righteous indignation, recently found experimentally even in capuchin monkeys,[note 57] and demonstrated cross-culturally in humans;[note 58] forgiveness and reconciliation, needed to repair relations, observed over the last twenty years in many species;[note 59] emotions like generosity and gratitude; and a capacity for detecting cheating in social relations . . . Nature has endowed us with a moral capacity "much like a gyroscope at rest," and culture's role is "to spin it and establish its orientation."[note 64] (p. 140-141; Kindle Locations 1584-1591).
4. Stories are true but they are true at a level of abstraction that has to be translated into “real-life” situations if we are to manifest these truths into our individual and social worlds. In order to translate the archetypal images that resonate within us, we need the resources of imagination, play, and creativity. Boyd emphasizes how these elements have been vital in the movement of culture and civilization.
They [Darwin machines] cannot find the right answer beforehand: there is no single right form of life, no single right antibody, no single right synaptic link, no single right move.(note 32) But they can generate possibilities that the environment tests. Survivors generate new variations and face new rounds of tests, so that even without preplanning, success accumulates. (p. 120; Kindle, 1387-1389).
In art understood as a Darwin machine, works are not somehow created to fit the cultural environment. Instead they are generated, unpredictably, in the minds or actions of artists, and selected first by them in accordance with their intuitions about their social world, and then by this world itself. (note 40)(p. 123; Kindle, 1414,)
Art develops in us habits of imaginative exploration, so that we take the world as not closed and given, but open and to be shaped on our own terms. In and through art, we readily turn the actual around within the much larger space of the possible, the conditional, and the impossible. Art opens up new dimensions of possibility space and populates it with imaginative particulars.
Art builds our confidence, at the individual and the group levels, in shaping our own destinies. (p. 124; Kindle,1427-1429, 1435)
The connections among the four themes from cooperation to creativity are shown in these excerpts from Boyd:
But a system of unconscious emotional contagion [that works before language and below conscious awareness and has evolved along with sociality] allows us to coordinate genuinely cooperative intentions. Mirror neurons, [whose function was discovered only in the early 1990s,] fire when we see others act or express emotion as if we were making the same action, and allow us through a kind of automatic inner imitation to understand their intentions and attune ourselves to their feelings.
When people are in rapport, they can be more creative together and more efficient in making decisions ... Shared attention is the first essential ingredient
Animals learn best to attune themselves to one another through the pleasures of play, taking turns, checking to see that their partners still seek the "high" of intense mutual engagement.(note 19) Humans, more flexible in behavior and dependent for much longer in childhood, broaden and lengthen social play, not only in childhood but right throughout adult life. And they extend it, crucially, into the cognitive play of art. (p. 103-4; Kindle, 1186-1195)
And through pretend play and fiction we learn to try out the positions of others, we attune ourselves spontaneously to the shifting emotions of an unfolding story, and we encounter story after story that embodies prosocial values in memorable, emotionally compelling images, actions, and outcomes (p. 106; Kindle, 1214-1215).
Application of the themes
As we move into planning our second digital media project, these themes are the stepping stones:
1. Through resonance, we each identify the metarepresentations that are worthy of development because they connect with the unique talent and gift given to each person. In other words, the authentic “hits” made in the experience of Good Stories, of teaching-narratives, offer the source of the archetypal images capable of advancing peace and justice.
2. Just as we are doing in the journal assignments, Digital Media Project 2 translates across the levels so that the point of resonance (such as Psyche opening the treasure chest or Chameleon looking like Ruler-Above) gets applied in our individual character and at the social level. For example, DMP2 could include a comic with an inner dialog where a self-doubt is challenged by the way a divine ruler would see the situation. Another part of DMP2 could show a photo of an experience though UMCP's alternative breaks program where a home is being made for persons living in sub-standard conditions. The voice track could tell how this is like anteater’s work in the Kanu Story and how it expands the chances for peace and justice.
3. In order to extend the understanding and the texture of the key archetypal image and the related quality, DMP2 amplifies by showing drawings and photos connected with several stories. For example, let’s assume that my points of resonance tended to relate to the points where someone received guidance: the youngest brother stopping for the small voice, the young sister listening to the old woman and to the talking bird, Psyche getting help from the reed and from the tower. Through metarepresentation I connect these points of resonance with the archetypal figure of the Guide. My project amplifies with images representing the stories just named and then translates the Guide across levels so that I creatively play forward my developing understanding of Guide/Guidance.
The empathy needed to recognize the guides we might otherwise miss out on can be developed by amplification of this theme. In the Grimms’ Water of Life, the guide was a voice that was perceived by the older brothers as too small to be worthy of their attention. In Golden Water, this is shown as a person who could be missed as just looking like a haystack. Psyche needs to listen to the reed alongside the river if she is to recover the golden wool. When we amplify the archetypal them of “guide” with these stories, we develop empathy needed to value small voices and to look into the hidden places.
Also, the Golden Water story shows a progression of the guide archetype as it suggest development of an inner voice (some call this “gnosis”). The youngest sister is in search of the “treasures” (figured as golden water, singing branch, & talking bird) that would make her home complete. This could represent the development of her complete being, personality, or wholeness. She gets guidance for this from the figure that was initially hidden in the mass of hair, like a haystack and then later from the talking bird. As the guide changes from human to the bird, we might understand this as developing more independence from outside mentoring and more reliance on an inner voice. In addition to gnosis, this kind of knowing has been elaborated as “felt sense” by Eugene Gendlin, as “feeling” in natural horsemanship, and as a sense of destiny. http://dochorsetales.blogspot.com/2014/10/destiny-directions.html
4. As just illustrated, the making of this second digital media project invites us to nurture and practice our capacity for imagination, play, and creativity. A sense of humor is often the best tonic to get through difficult experiences. Lazy Jack’s bumbling attempts in his slowly developing ability for adaptation in moving day to day resulted in the laughter that connected with the beloved.
Imagination also allows us to connect with resources such as the ones given for Psyche’s tasks. When Psyche loses contact with Eros, the stage is set for bouts with Depression because Eros represents the source of creativity and vitality. Our well-being depends on our nurturing our relationship with play, and play deserves to be taken seriously along the lines of the way that Vivian Paley portrays it in her accounts such as A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play and You Can’t Say You Can’t Play
Questions to think about:
1. After viewing “Beginnings,” name and illustrate your point of resonance.
2. Explain how the Beginnings story, preferably the place in the story that you just named, connects with Boyd’s explanation of the importance of creativity. See excerpts from Boyd in part 4 above.
3. Use your creativity to make a visual that you could use in DMP2. The image should show a photo of you in a place where you are getting creative ideas. Put in a thought bubble that tells about an insight or a wondering you are making based on the Beginnings story. For example, it might say, “Like Little Coot this idea I have about [fill in your idea] looks like just a useless speck of mud, but…”