Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 09:05:52 AM EST
Given the recent article and diary related to human behaviour, brain functions and Enlightenment, I think it is time to remember what we are trying to do here in ET and the best way to get there using what we can do best: put ideas from different sources together and devise and action plan.
What we all want to do is to see on Earth the Star Trek mythology (Star trek: The Next Generation mostly). We want a human species having a sustainable economy where everyone is included and where every human being can differentiate itself through their personal or communal narratives (our own personal vision of the world). No wars, no famine, no uber-rich , no misery. A Western-Eastern world where we are valued by the narratives we generate independently of how forceful other try to make us fit a particular stereotype. An advanced technological world which understands any particular culture. Personal desires and wishes are dealt with according to cultural reference frames and proposals to change people's behaviour are done through ideas and not "facts on the ground" (like wars and violence).
The question is how to to get there... And to get there we must understand human behaviour. But basic human behaviour is basically fixed by structural narratives. At the same time particular human behaviour (my behaviour being different from yours) is related to personal accepted narratives. This diary is basically about explaining what this last paragraph means.
Excellent essay for a Sunday afternoon - Nomad
I guess we all know what human behaviour is. From talking to body language, from external actions to external feelings, all the way through internal/personal actions and feelings.
All these actions do not happen in a vacuum. They happen in a playing field. Our brain creates this playing field using the so-called structural narratives (or myths). The most basic tenets and definitions of what we are, where/how we live and understand and, more important to us in ET, how we behave. The basic aspect of how we give meaning to space, to status, to inter-personal structures (or "relationships"), to empathy,.. all encoded in structural narratives. Like our basic description of a feeling and how to "feel". These structural myths appear in all cultures, different cultures define the story-line differently and generate different playing fields where a human behaves and lives. This is why there are large differences in human behaviour in different cultures even at the most basic levels. In some particular cases biology and structural narratives have joined to create a human universal.. something all humans do. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are not many of them. Empathy, feelings, violence, status, magic have the same basic story-line.. but even they differentiate on the specifics. A friend of mine, anthropologist, once told me that the only structural narrative which is a universal copy and exists in all cultures is the narrative word-by-word of "fear of the snakes".
We all have status but we obtain it and lose it differently and for different reasons. We all distribute space but we do it according to different rules/roles and divisions giving different meanings and properties to them. We all have mythology about our-self, no-self or social reality. The same thing about our body and about feelings.. we all deal with our body and our feelings but the division of the body and the number and types of feelings differ from culture to culture (I guess you never tried to explain "morriña" to an american, a very common feeling in some parts of Spain. But probably you have heard that "falling in love" was an invention in the South of France almost one milenium ago.. yes, Romans never "fell in love" no matter what Hollywood says and some romantics say. Actually, if it were not for the genius of Shakespeare the details and actions of our feeling world would have changed more rapidly in the last centuries.. but Shakespeare was a freaking genius... which is a topic for another diary).
So, except for "fear of snakes", exactly the same construction, the same feeling/emotion and related to the same thing (snakes), not that much exists out there regarding universal human behaviour. Of course some cultures fear some insects and others eat them.. but "fear of snakes" is the only structural narrative leading to (equals to) universal human behavior out there, according to my friend (did you know that the "fear" process have been completely mapped in our brain, yes without any other information but a t-scan I can know if any human being in the world has fear). Actually, I am not sure if my friend was correct...I have heard discussions about other universal human behaviour (happy/unhappiness dichotomy for similar things, some types of empathy for the same people, or universal magic behaviour/laws) but you get the idea that really universal human behaviour... not that many (ask or talk to any urban western person working in a seemingly close-related "closed agricultural community" in South America nowadays, as I just did, to erase any doubt about this fact). The number of universal feelings (so-called limbic)is small and the way it can be structured and changed by culture at the frontal lobe level (some fancy words to show that I made research on neurobiology to gain some status is always useful) is enormous. On the other hand, universal topics, as I have described, quite a bunch of them. (For a similar take you can read a more global view about mythologies).
But not all structural narratives deal with a subject which is universal. Some belong to a particular culture. For example in ancient Greece Gods by definition interacted with humans. It was a structural narrative or myth. Something which nobody doubted because it was self-evident (to them). Any structural myth is internalized very early in our development because all the physical and social world around functions according to the "grammar" fixed by this fundamental narrative. Since all structural myths have grammar we can try to translate them in words, although we do not learn most of them using verbal language.
A very important structural narrative in western urban civilization (some people say it defines us) is the enlightenment structural narrative
I still remember how in ET we tried to push strongly the idea that the first thing to get Enlightenment-based legislation was to buy media and push non-structural narratives/myths regarding any particular legislation. The american democrats got better at that and Bush failures did the rest. In the 80's the left did not know even the basic scientific facts that the right was using with Reagan to change the society. They did not know what a narrative was, even less a structural narrative. They did not even know the basic resulting behaviour in western societies learnt by experiments in psychology, sociology and anthropology.
Fortunately, they seem to be getting the idea now.
We have been repeating again and again that the Enlightenment structural myth is just that, a myth. A particular myth that was developed in western Europe a couple of centuries ago. It was a potent myth, but that was all: a structural myth.
So let me repeat again, myths does not mean (or is) false, a myth is just the opposite of false. A myth is an structural narrative which is by definition true and can not be questioned within itself. We consider the existence of our- "self" evident , even if research shows that this not an universal trait. It does not matter, we feel that it is true, We believe that it is true, we think we take decisions and nothing would make us believe otherwise (we may accept that they can be strongly influenced by other, but not that someone is making the decision for us). This is because we learn it as an structural myth when we are very young. I can assure you that a bororo indian member would not "feel" believe or contemplate what we think or feel as a possibility... in a bororo's brain everybody and every living entity thinks... and they feel that a tree is using one's (if its his at all) brain just as I think that this is impossible.
So again, brains need these basic structural myths. Some of them deal with issues present in all cultures. Obviously they can be solved differently. The narrative behind it can be different. Other myths are related with very particular issues and are present in a small set of cultures.. and they are absolutely true for those having it.
Our behaviour within the group is a case of a topic dealt in our cultures with a structural myth (we are social animals comes form this, all humans have behaviour mythology). All cultures have an structured mythology regarding empathy...and space distribution (left-right, public/private (or clan) space with strong codes of conduct... just try to shout out loud in church and tell me what happens), status. and personal/social decision making (some cultures focus on why we take decisions, other on who, others don't give a shit about who. Some are more individualistic, some are non-personal, some are relational, etc..funny enough all societies have status structural myths).
Enlightenment was a powerful and interesting myth because it dealt with decision making and the self-reference all in "one structure". It spread like fire in some members of our culture as a normal non-structural narrative and, eventually, it became one. But this does not mean that this myth is self-evident. It must be completely shared by every single member of the society: And in some subgroups of our society it is indeed learnt and taken as an obvious truth. But the reality is that western human behavior is NOT ONLY shaped by the structural myth of independent-rational agent" who is "supposed" to grow and mature". But at the same time we have the "image myth" which makes us believe (remember with us being unaware of the fact) strongly in social reinforcing. The relevance of image, the image making process, the picture , the films as a way to explain relevant histories and tales makes the image mythology one of our structural mythologies. So our every day life reflects this. And both truths are self-evident to every single member of our society.. the problem is that a strong version of Enlightenment where "the image myth" is considered (how we the left ever came to that false conclusion?) irrelevant and "scientific decision making" used as a hierarchical structure to convey rational information" is not shared by everyone. So, the strong version of Enlightenment is NOT a structural myth. And not everyone (read religious right in the US) behaves according to it.
The conclusions and the behaviour described in the linked article of the introduction is indeed the most common behaviour around in the western hemisphere... but a dogon would be laughing loud at us... laughing if he/she would ever understand our framework.
I repeat, how the brain "works" regarding social interactions is the realm of structural mythology. Put a different structural mythology and you get different basic behaviour. We do not behave like "this" because the apes do it... there are a lot of cultures with similar "structural myths" regarding cooperative behaviour" because we used to need it like apes. Other don't. The great step of the brain is to differentiate between behaviour and structural myth and normal narratives. This makes the symbolic and action process very powerful (in the sense of maleable and robust).
Normal narratives are related to a basic framework of a small set structural myths. These narratives are multiple and contradictory. Groups of them are reinforcing each other, other groups of narratives oppose each other. A film is a normal narrative: a history about guy who happen to travel to Europe and see "socialized medicine for himself" is a narrative. "The car" and individual freedom is a narrative. (we have thousands of them at different layers and with different formats).. they are "normal" narratives. They allow us to be different from each other as long as there are a bunch of them. One of the reasons science came to exist is that we managed to expand the number of non-structural narratives. On the other hand structural narratives are very very tough to deal if you want to change it.
My position has always been: do not try to change the structural myth for short-term political purposes, it is impossible. Change the narratives attached to it, the technology and objects used by the culture.. and eventually you would be able to change the structural narratives. Otherwise, it is impossible.
So if we want our "world vision" to prevail (the idea of humans as a ecologically self-sustained species which can expand its narratives and personal will through knowledge and the enhancement of creative cooperative behaviour) we have to change slowly decade by decade the non-essential myths.. those stories that go mouth to mouth and propagate. To generate new narratives that synthesize ideas and get more powerful as they pass along members. To increase our reinforcing chamber (same idea form multiple sources with some variations which agree on the fundamentals). Yes, buy media.. or get blogs everywhere.
And stressing one final point along the lines of Migeru (we normally agree, after all, because we both watched the same TV and studied the same subjects). You need narratives in every single frame. A frame is a subset of narratives which reinforce each other. You need narratives which improve our goals in each and every one of them. This is not to mean we must not provide an alternative "atheist narrative bunch" or an "spiritual narrative group" or a "formal-religious and science magnificient division narrative" as Kant and Gould proposed so that some people in the US religious right can have a "conversion" to the standard European Catholic or Protestant frame (a very interesting anthropological and psychological topic, how an individual gets attached to a particular set of non-structural narratives and how it can change them). But providing only these "external frames" is not going to work...Migeru is right...
And probably, we are witnessing how a set of right-wing histories and narratives is becoming so entrenched that it could become a structural narrative for a certain subgroup of people. Just like the religious right in the US has a different structural narrative regarding facts and science than we do.
Luckily, value models considered positive in TV are still cooperative in nature... things there have not changed that much since Migeru and myself watched Espinete. The problem is there are other narratives out there. We'd better fight them... otherwise.. well, according to our own mythology, the earth will take care of us as a virus infection.
UPDATE: thanks to Fran and Migeru for pointing out misleading sentences