Saturday, September 09, 2023

The Cognitive Limits of Personal Narratives


      (The River Raisin, in Monroe)

(These are some Wittgensteinian aphorisms on the limits of stories that I wrote during my praying time today. Perhaps to be further developed.)

Every person has a unique life story. If the goal is to understand a person, then we must listen to them as they tell their stories, or their sub-stories (stories within their life story). 

Uniqueness has nothing to do with truth. A story might be interesting, but "interesting" does not cause the listener to say, "Aha! That's so interesting. Therefore it is true."

The details of their story might not be accurate. For example, there may be exaggeration.

The hearer of the story must interpret it. (Unless the interpreter is a postmodernist, à la Jacques Derrida. According to Derrida, no one can interpret a text, at least in terms of authorial intention. Which means, Derrida expected no one to interpret his texts, thus proving his point, in a self-contradictory way.)

A story is something we listen to, for the sake of understanding.

A person's story is not something to be "affirmed." For example, if the person is a pedophile. If they applaud pedophilia, we can listen to their story (e.g., if we are a psychologist). We may discover how they came to affirm pedophilia. They may say "true" to this statement: Pedophilia is a moral good. But, hopefully, the psychologist does not affirm the statement Pedophilia is a moral good. That statement is false.

A story may be the bearer of truth, or the bearer of falsity. We may ask, "What is the moral of the story?" But the expression of the moral of the story (in a statement) is extrinsic to the story itself.

Imagine I am sitting in your kitchen. It's just you and me. I pull out an assault rifle. While fondling its trigger, I share my story. Of how I grew to love shooting people with assault rifles. After hearing it, you are probably not going to reply with, "I affirm your story."

Stories, whether factive or fictive, can carry emotional weight and transformative power. Stories can move us, in certain ways. That may be good. But from all this emotion, this does not follow:

1) This story makes me emotional.

2) Therefore, I must affirm it as true.

The emotional weight of a story is not equivalent to the truth of its underlying moral point. A story may point us in a truth-bearing direction. Once that direction is identified, we dismount that horse to use reason (logic) to evaluate the truth or falsity of whatever moral point has been made.