Better Reasoning For A Storytelling Species

Humans understand the world through stories. It’s hardwired into us in the same way as our sense of fairness or our tendency to see familiar objects in random shapes like clouds.

But unlike seeing a cloud that looks like a bunny rabbit, our love of stories isn’t always harmless. The simplicity of stories works in direct opposition to the complexity of reasoning. Stories, as wonderful as they are, don’t often capture the nuance of real life. In stories there is a good guy and a bad guy, a beginning, middle and end, there are happy endings and deserved punishments. Life is rarely so cooperative.

But thankfully, the human brain is remarkably adaptable. Even if we can’t stop ourselves from processing information as stories, we can guard against some of the errors this tendency produces. This article in Aero magazine aims to do just that:

Our heuristics—the rules of thumb we use in our reasoning—can create and maintain wonderful stories, at the cost of nuance and accuracy: such as when we assign more blame to those we dislike, and more merit to those we like, creating a clear separation between the good guys and the bad guys; when we feel that rhymes imply truth; assess ambiguous information as confirming our preconceived narratives, and evaluate arguments as if they were stories—on the basis of their believability, instead of their logical structures and evidential bases.

Overcoming these tendencies is a crucial step on the path towards intellectual progress, since reality has shown, time and time again, that it is under no obligation to conform to the stories we tell about it.