Believing our own stories

Our brains are pattern seeking mechanisms. Evolution has given us an ability to see patterns of threat or opportunity. We do this all the time, and can’t stop ourselves. We string together a succession of these patterns and identify with the narrative that they create. They become what we think of as our self, our identity, what we think of as “me”.

Most of these patterns are based on things we have heard from others around us – family, society, peer groups, the media. Once we have taken in these patterns, established this narrative, and identified with it as “me”, we will do anything to hold onto it. Anything that shakes this narrative is seen as an existential threat. And it is.

If our sense of self weakens it feels like facing death. We will struggle to maintain it in the face of evidence to the contrary from the world around us. We will make ourselves miserable if that world doesn’t conform to the way we think it should be. We will fight other people who don’t agree with our narratives. We will attempt to bend the world around us to try and force it to conform to our narratives and in so doing we are causing untold damage to the planet.

We should take our stories with a pinch of salt. We should remember it’s all made up.

4 thoughts on “Believing our own stories”

  1. Euan, I like the way you’ve put together the pattern-seeking brain with self-narratives. A potential of the neo-cortex, which you’ve modeled so well here, is the capacity to examine the patterns (often inherited from parents and care-givers, friends and experiences) and “take it with a grain of salt.” Cognitive theory is based on this capacity, I think. I tend to believe we wall out the instinct to use the neocortex at the very time we need it the most — in the midst of conflict–possibly for evolutionary reasons. Those who thought twice were eaten by the bear. Yet I also have faith that given half a chance, growth can happen: the story is revised or a new one created, and this can happen around capacities I’m not sure we yet understand, such as redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness and higher callings that have few words.

    Like

  2. Euan, I like the way you’ve put together the pattern-seeking brain with self-narratives. A potential of the neo-cortex, which you’ve modeled so well here, is the capacity to examine the patterns (often inherited from parents and care-givers, friends and experiences) and “take it with a grain of salt.” Cognitive theory is based on this capacity, I think. I tend to believe we wall out the instinct to use the neocortex at the very time we need it the most — in the midst of conflict–possibly for evolutionary reasons. Those who thought twice were eaten by the bear. Yet I also have faith that given half a chance, growth can happen: the story is revised or a new one created, and this can happen around capacities I’m not sure we yet understand, such as redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness and higher callings that have few words.

    Like

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