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single faith or set of beliefs).
Emancipative theories, which
focus on the power structures that prevent freedom of
thought, action, and belief. These sorts of theory are “predictive” in the sense that they
envisage a free – or at least, freer – world.
My suggestion is that all these putative notions of theory are, in embryo, narratively derived.
One could further contend that there might be disciplines like physics and biology that are by
and large devoted to the notion of
and other disciplines like literature and
philosophy that specialize in
. In these latter cases, the exemplar
questions motivating narrative productions might differ somewhat from the ones in the
sciences; for instance, they might ask: “What was the
between Cinderella and
her stepmother, or between Beauty and the Beast?” In addition, one could have theories that
privilege “emancipation,” proposing that universal moral orders exist. The most obvious
examples of such theories might be religious.
If the role of theory is to use forms of language from the mathematical to the mystical
to describe, explain, and convince, then the above line of argument could support the
following strong hypothesis:
Narrative as a generic form functions across cultures as both
the base and instrument of theory
, where “theory” in its core sense is conceived of as an
“abstract” answer to questions about the phenomenological world. Modern scientific theory,
in this respect, would only constitute a highly specialized version of these primal storytelling
Memory, Recursion, Empathy
The problem is that we can construct wonderful narratives, but we cannot look into our own
brains. Here is a simple example. Suppose I were to ask you, “How many words do you have
in your head?” A simple computer program can figure this out, but not even the Einsteins
among us can. However, what we can
do is to get at this information indirectly. We can, for
example, attack the problem through a statistical analysis of a large speech corpus and we can
follow up by writing computer programs that mimic this knowledge. Or we can choose to
concentrate not on words themselves, but on how words combine. This is the move made, for
example, by Noam Chomsky, who sees recursion, or the power to combine a finite number of
verbal elements to yield infinite combinations, as the defining characteristic of language.
However, Chomsky (2008) also writes, rather surprisingly:
“It is quite possible, overwhelmingly probable one might guess, that we will always
learn more about human life and human personality from novels than fromscientific
psychology. The science forming capacity... is only one facet of our mental
endowment. We use it where we can, but we are not restricted to it, fortunately.”