Stories. I was thinking about stories, earlier. Stories, narrative, interpretation, explanation; and science, evidence, testing. I forget what started the train of thought, but it was about the way stories give us explanations of why people do things that are peculiarly satisfying, and that science can be irritating when it tells us a story is wrong.
The thing about stories is that they give us permission to make unquestionable claims about what people think, and what their motivations are. We can’t do that in real life, you know. If we’re sharing a bit of gossip about Eleanora or Archibald, we don’t tell it the way a storyteller does. We narrate facts or reports, what we’ve seen or what others say they’ve seen; we don’t announce what the protagonists thought. That’s because we don’t know. Stories have opposite rules – in telling stories it’s just normal to say what everyone thinks. Homer did it all the time.
That’s interesting, isn’t it. In real life we don’t know what other people think, we just infer it from how they behave, and often we’re aware that we don’t have a clue. In reading or hearing stories, we enter an alternate world where we can be told what everyone thinks.
Why is that so peculiarly satisfying? Probably partly because we can’t do it in real life; we can’t have that comfortable sense that we understand exactly why everybody does everything. Probably also partly because it’s explanatory. There just is something satisfying about a good explanation – “good” in the sense of being a good fit and making sense of something that was a puzzle or a jumble.
I suppose I’m talking about folk psychology. I’m thinking that stories probably have a lot to do with where we get our folk psychology. I’m also wondering if they trick us into thinking we understand other minds better than we really do.