We Think in Narratives

By Melanie Anne Phillips

We think in narratives. Narrative is not an artificial construct imposed on fiction nor on the real world, but it is a description of the ways of the mind beneath the level of subject matter. In a sense, narrative describes the operating system of the mind before a program is loaded.

As an example, consider that we all have certain fundamental human qualities such as a sense of Reason, Conscience, and Skepticism to name a few. When faced with problems or inequities in our own lives, we bring all of these qualities to bear in order to seek a solution to the problem and/or see balance to an inequity.

When we come together in groups around a issue of common interest or a common purpose, we quickly self-organize into specialties so that one of use becomes the Voice of Reason for the group, while another becomes the Conscience of the group and yet another emerges at the Resident Skeptic, for example.

This occurs because the group purpose is best served when one person spends all his or her time delving deep into the issue from the viewpoint of Reason while another focuses solely on examining the issue with Skepticism. Then, we come together to report our findings. In this way, the group sees far deeper into the issue that if we all worked as we do on our own problems, as General Practitioners, each trying to do all the same jobs everyone else is doing.

So something wonderful happened when storytellers sought to understand what goes on in our own hearts and minds and what goes on with our collective interactions. Over hundreds of generations, storytellers were able to document the patterns of group thought and individual thought and embed them in the conventions of story structure.

Narrative then, is not a linear path of logic as in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” but it is fractal in nature. The group mind is identical in components and operation to that of the individual mind, just one fractal dimension larger than that of the individual.

This is why story structure was not previously decipherable – you can’t explain a nonlinear system with a linear paradigm.

The archetypes in stories are derived from these roles we adopt in the group mind which in turn represent our own internal qualities. And so, the group mind provides a visible working model of the mind, just as in my youth the Visible Man model showed our internal organs beneath a transparent plastic “Skin.”

Archetypes, then, represent our fundamental qualities and the group mind is an external fractal projection of the operating system of our own internal minds. The group mind (we call it the Story Mind, hence the name of my web site) is not Jung’s collective unconscious, though it is similar in that it the systemic functioning of our minds that we all shared in identically as human beings. And archetypes are not mythological, as in Campbell, but are personifications of our internal attributes as expressed through the avatar roles we adopt when we organize as specialists within a group.

Suffice it to say that through narrative, we are able to look into the structure and dynamics of the group mind and see those within ourselves. And, as a result, narrative holds the key to understanding why we think and feel as we do, and provides the methods and techniques that can solve both our external problems and internal inequities.

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