18 August, 2010

Azar Gat on Narrative Building

In a previous discussion I mentioned the important part narrative building plays in human cognition. As it turns out, I am not the only person to reach this conclusion. This week's "intriguing passage" comes from the pen of Azar Gat, excerpted from his awesome War in Human Civilization. It excellently illuminates the human need to simplify the complexity of our universe into condensed narratives and myths:

In order to cope with their environment, humans strive to identify, understand, and explain the forces operating within and behind it, so that they can at least predict, and if possible, also manipulate these forces and their effects to their advantage. They are predisposed to assume that such forces are there. With respect both to their natural and human environment, humans achieved impressive successes in using these methods. The quest for an understanding thus evolved into a fundamental human trait. Humans must have answers as to the reasons and direction of the world around them. Stretching this faculty the furthest, humans have a deep emotional need for a comprehensive interpretive framework, or set of interpretive 'stories' that would explain, connect the various elements of, and give meaning to their world and their own existence within it. They need a cognitive map of, and a manipulative manual for, the universe, which by lessening the realm of the unknown would them a sense of security and control, allay their fears, and alleviate their pain and distress.

--Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization, (Oxford: 2006), p. 101.

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