Hardwired For Story

The human brain is hardwired to pay attention to story. Imagine you’re sipping coke and the bottle slips out of your hands, falls to the ground and shatters. Now imagine that before the bottle falls, you’re sitting in your green couch in your green living room with the AC on and the fan rotating (I resisted the urge to say turnioniown). The paper you’re editing is waving at you because the fan is teasing it. An army of ants are marching up the wall. Your younger siblings are running up and down the stairs and you can hear your older sister screaming bloody murder on the person that wore her very expensive custom-made sweatshirt. The sun is shining. The sky is (still) blue. Birds are flying overhead and somewhere the war of five kings is going on. Now while all this is going on, Your bottle of coke falls and shatters. Tell me now, what does your brain focus on? You guessed right. The shattered bottle. You jump up in surprise and panic because you do not want your feet pierced and the bottle wasn’t even half empty yet . In that moment, your brain, (which was designed to be efficient) will not remind you that, “hey, the sky is blue” or “damn, what are those ants doing there?” or the fact that the Nigerian version of GOT is happening but in low-budget movie style. (If your brain does that, please question it’s efficiency and your sanity). All your brain will be focused on is “My coke fell and the bottle broke. Oh my God. My feet! The glass could cut my feet! Jump out of the way. Okay, I have to clean this up, so I don’t get hurt and my mother doesn’t kill me. Where am I going to get money to get another coke now?!”

You see that? The event that happened is what holds your brain’s attention and what keeps it is how whatever has happened affects you, what you do about it and how you change as a result of what happened. Now, that’s a damn good story because you can now go on to beg your sister for #100 because your coke bottle broke and you were traumatized. You can go on to tell your boss how you hurt your feet and can’t make it to work the next day. A story isn’t just when something happens like your drink being cold, or the sky changing colour or the AC being on. It’s when you get a brain freeze, get soaked in the rain and freeze to death in your living room and you have to drink hot water, change out of your clothes and turn the damned AC off. When those events affect you, your brain makes you the protagonist and edits whatever is happening around you with the precision of the best video editor, bringing up past thoughts, ideas and memories (like the first time you got drenched, you changed out of wet clothes and into warm clothes, right?) which it had stored for future reference. When that happens, you can tell that you’re in a story.

A damn good one at that.  

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