NARRATIVE FALLACY AND HUMAN MANIPULATION
By Karl Arnold Belser
1 July 2014
Nacim Taleb popularized the term Narrative Fallacy in his 2007 book The Black Swan.
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding. - Quote from the The Black Swan
I consider the Narrative Fallacy to be one of my most significant thinking errors as I state in my post WHY DID I START THIS BLOG and in my post THINKING ERRORS. The Seeking Wisdom article on Narrative Fallacy and Tyler Cowen's Ted Talk on Narrative Fallacy gave me some new insight that has motivated me to discuss the topic again.
The Seeking Wisdom article on Narrative Fallacy shows how split brain patients make up stories to help the left hemisphere (which has speech) explain what the right hemisphere is doing.
Tyler Cowen's Ted Talk on Narrative Fallacy points out the interesting fact that it is really difficult to communicant without making the communication into a narrative. This means that the talk may be subjected to narrative fallacy.
Suppose that there are no facts in the story. Then what?
I saw the play God Fights the Plague by Dez Galegos that made me realize that the religions of the world are stories based on no facts that explain and provide closure to many existential issues.
“God Fights the Plague” is a comic and moving story about a young man who sets out to either find God or, once and for all, deny his existence. For this original documentary theater piece, 18-year-old Dezi Gallegos interviewed individuals from nine different religions and recreates their words, wisdom, and wit on stage. Join him on his journey and hear the questions and convictions that motivate your neighbors to believe in one god, no god, or many gods. Whatever your creed, his performance will rekindle your faith in humanity. “God Fights the Plague” is the story of God and us: the age-old quest to know why we’re here, where we’re going, whether our ship has a captain or if we’re sailing on our own. - from the Marsh Theater website.
There were several religions represented in the play, and since the dialogs were quotes from people who believed in the religions I found each statement to have merit. I could see that I also could believe in every one of them given the right circumstances. None of the statements were falsifiable because there was no truth in them that could be verified.
I remember reading the Old Testament of the Bible many years ago, when I realized that the Jews were essentially telling a story of how belief in one God unified them and this unification allowed them to fight fiercely against their enemies and win. Maybe factless narratives are a unifying factor for groups of people.
A narrative based on no facts such that it cannot be proved or disproved is apparently a useful construction for managing and unifying people. I would not call this kind of narrative a Narrative Fallacy. It is a human manipulation tool.
Last updated July 1, 2014
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