Are We Smart Enough to Ask for Story Instead of Answers?

“You are either with us or against us.”

I continue to think about that slogan on the t-shirt of a man at a convenience store, which I wrote about here recently.

And, I think about the idea I heard in a Unitarian sermon recently that our attempt to find “truth” is to give us false hope that there is something that will never change.

I think about that one a lot, actually.

I contemplate a comment biologist Rupert Sheldrake made years ago in a video I saw recently that he does not, in fact, think our evolution of human consciousness is expanding. We are acquiring great quantities of information and data on a global level, he said, but we seem to be losing our ability to put them into any storytelling context, as traditional cultures might do in connections with elders, for example.

We are gaining in knowledge, Sheldrake said, but falling short in wisdom.

Finding the Sages

There are wise storytellers around us, however. This website is largely devoted to bringing a few of them together in our own resource for collective consciousness: Edgar Mitchell, Rupert Sheldrake, Peter Russell, COMING UP: Ervin Laszlo, Lynne McTaggart, Bruce Lipton…

But perhaps the frustration, to those of us who are starting to listen to their stories is that, as the world grows, the sheer numbers of those who are gathering “data” and making decisions with it (with us or against us, black/white, 0 or 1, truth or fiction, science or religion), without context, simply seems to be exponentially increasing.

Greg Anderson, Yachats

photographer Greg Anderson

Will we be able to stem that tide? Bridge a gap?

Global interconnectedness is great for selling products and sharing information… but there is limited attention span for story. A YouTube video goes viral more easily if it is under two minutes. Twitter galvanizes attention because it is less than 140 characters. Snapchat is here in one moment, gone the next.

Buddhism… Confucianism… Rumi… there are great quotes that can be shared on Facebook with images of beautiful sunsets. But other than the occasional sermons we listen to on Sunday mornings, or the Prairie Home Companion radio shows, is there story that we’ll wait for?

I know I’m highly prone to figuring out the “point” of a story and then letting my mind race to its judgments about it. The guy in the “with me or against me” t-shirt… I took one look at the slogan and summed him up in my mind in two seconds. I look at a headline and decide if it’s worth my time to click. I don’t tend to click on video shares, even those under a minute, because I don’t want to take the time to suspend the chatter in my own life long enough to try to absorb yet more of someone else’s.

My Brian Greene Story

Brian Greene, who does very smart and admirable things with World Science U [I took his six-week online course on relativity over the summer and was proud to get a certificate to prove it :)], posted on Facebook recently a question about whether our human brains will ever have the capacity to understand the full nature of reality. The image of a Weimaraner dog tilting his head in front of a backdrop of a galaxy caught my attention. So I clicked. And I watched his 1:16 video.

Like dogs with a more finite sense of knowing things than humans, he said, maybe our brains, too, are limited in capacity to figure certain things out. You try to teach a dog about relativity, and it doesn’t seem to have the ability to grasp it. Maybe the truth is right in front of us about the nature of reality and we don’t have the ability to grasp it, Greene said. Maybe we hit the wall we have not reached yet, and we simply can’t go any further.

There were more than a thousand “Likes” and eventually more than 100 Facebook comments. I decided to participate in the quips.

Having just completed my page and e-guide here about Rupert Sheldrake (author of Dogs Who Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, I wrote: “What if it’s not brainpower, but awareness…. other senses… that we haven’t yet honed…. in the way that spawning fish or monarch butterflies or homing pigeons or eels in the dark or seemingly precognitive animals seem to sense things we don’t?”

One of the viewers commented: “It’s not about new age ‘methods of knowing.’ These animals sense things we don’t because of our anatomical differences. You can’t record music with a photographic camera. Not because the camera needs to be ‘honed,’ but because a camera has the specific components for ‘catching’ light waves, not sound.”

Judging my idea “new age,” it seemed to me, was a snap response. So I snapped back, “Yes, that’s what I was saying… there are different senses and different levels of awareness…. intellectual brainpower isn’t the only way to understand what’s going on. There’s nothing ‘new age’ about that. It’s been going on longer than we have.”

The All Powerful Cartesian Divide

Finding the “truth” in science that never changes, or the “truth” in religion that gives us security, has long been attributed to the dividing line established by Rene Descartes.

In the interesting book Descartes Bones, by Russell Shorto (excerpted in Guide #4), he indicated that toward the end of his abbreviated life, Descartes had begun to believe there was a connective tissue between mind and body. In essence, he had started writing a treatise on the “passions of the soul.”

The heart, he was determining, was a third substance that served as interface between physical health and the “soul.” Anticipating psychology, Shorto wrote, Descartes was not dualistic at the end of his young life, but exploring the impact of emotional state – something beyond both “science” of the physical and “religion” of the soul.

It is a mistake, [Shorto] writes, to think that the Enlightenment “set reason firmly against faith and the two have ever since been locked in a death struggle.” Radicals among the trailblazing modern thinkers were more than equally matched by moderates who believed that “reason would function alongside faith to increase human happiness and life span, end disease, reduce suffering of all kinds and give people greater power over nature and greater freedom in their lives.”

— from a New York Times review of Shorto’s book

In My Pessimistic Moments

We’re so comfortable with the “with us or against us” model though – dualism has been fitting us nicely – that I sometimes wonder if it’s beyond our general capacity to hold, and contrast, more than two ideas at the same time. Questioning that requires storytelling and listening, rather than data and quick analysis, might be becoming extinct. Much like dogs contemplating relativity, perhaps going deeper than measuring “this” versus “that” is a capability that is beginning to elude our brains.

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

As Shorto concluded: ““We are all philosophers because our condition demands it. We live every moment in a universe of seemingly eternal thoughts and ideas, yet simultaneously in the constantly churning and decaying world of our bodies and their humble situations. . . . The result is a nagging need to find meaning.”

Perhaps there is “truth” in stories and interconnections that evolve in time, rather than “truth” that gives us a definitive answer?

Use Reply below to share your thoughts on the subject.

— Mikki Morrissette

Coming up in a future Expansion blog and e-guide:

“Nothing in Western science predicts that any living creature should be conscious. It is easier to explain how hydrogen evolved into other elements, how they combined to form molecules and then simple living cells, and how these evolved into complex begins such as ourselves than it is to explain why we should ever have a single inner experience.” – Peter Russell

  3 comments for “Are We Smart Enough to Ask for Story Instead of Answers?

  1. December 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Funny Patrick…. I was actually in touch with Sheldrake recently trying to remember where I had seen a quote he gave about this very topic … wisdom being lost … for a future writing project. And he didn’t remember either. So how humorous it is for me that I had embedded the source within this essay from a few years ago that you’ve now pointed out! Thank you! For so many things!

    • Terry Thomson
      January 7, 2017 at 7:12 pm

      Mikki – i ran across “yourstory” in the Minnesota Women’s Press and I signed up to attend your “consciousness circle” meetings. I have lived a life of “stories” never expected or searched for by me. I am presented with the origin of the story and I respond, if I can. My first introduction to an “invisible” layer was at age five. I was playing in my bedroom with a couple of neighborhood friends when I felt drawn to the window. I saw in the sky that there were multiple layers of things that people couldn’t see or understand. It made me feel outside of my body. I looked at my friends to see if they were having the same feeling that I was, but they were not aware.

      I want to find the words for my stories, but “data” has never crossed my mind before reading your website. Finding answers is part of our quest as humans — our brains need data and answers. But we should allow for stories.

      I’m looking forward to your meeting next week, 1/11/17.


  2. Patrick King
    December 13, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you, Mikki, for this and for all of your essays. With regard to this particular essay, I point to this one quote you included, from Rupert Sheldrake:

    “We are gaining in knowledge, Sheldrake said, but falling short in wisdom.”

    The continuum should be DATA, INFORMATION, KNOWLDEGE, WISDOM. Unfortunately, Sheldrake may have been a bit optimistic. For all of its wonderful, already realized potential, the World Wide Web has unfortunately acted as a massive purveyor of globally toxic MIS-information. Thus, in many ways, we’re back to square One–DATA And even that first step is perverted when a large segment of the population rejects sound, accurate data, which may call into question the MIS-information accepted as “gospel” by so many–those among us symbolized by your guy with the black tee-shirt screaming “You’re Either With Us or Against Us.”

    Our species is at a crisis point, beyond any other reasons, because of those seven words.
    —Patrick King

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