Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Book Review: Storythinking by Angus Fletcher

The human brain is often equated with a supercomputer. The common understanding is that it is a logical analytical device that interprets data and provides conclusions based on that. But according to Angus Fletcher, our brains are far more than that. In this short volume, he elaborates on the capacity of our brain to storythink—the capacity for narrative building—which is the basis for human innovation and growth.

Angus Fletcher is a professor of story science and an expert in narrative theory. He uses narrative theory and the technologies of neuroscience to probe the human brains of authors and audiences, finding out the effects of stories on their brains. His conclusion is that stories are not just means of communication, as most of us believe. They are powerful tools for creative action, something that logic-based critical thinking is impossible to achieve. Human brains are able to think narratively as well as logically, and each kind of thinking has a different function from the other. While logical thinking was good for answering how, story thinking made it possible to answer why and what if, which resulted in better planning, adaptability, and innovation.

Philosophers, starting with Aristotle, placed logic as the basis of intellect and degraded narratives and stories as lies. Their quest was for eternal truth, so it was natural for them to find narratives, due to their fleeting nature, not worthy of serious consideration. Angus Fletcher wants this book to do what Aristotle did for logical thinking: explain storythinking and devise methods to practise and perfect the habit of using it. He isn't denying the benefits of logical thought and metaphysics, but he advocates incorporating narrative thinking into the process as well. He also convincingly puts forward the argument that AI can never compete with the human brain on radical innovation because AI, however complex the algorithms it may use, still employs the basic logical method developed by Aristotle in its workings.

The book is an easy read where the writer develops his thoughts on storythinking by using narrative theory. He differentiates very clearly between the more prominent logical thought and storythinking and demonstrates why one is never a replacement for the other. He bases his thoughts on history, biology, sociology, philosophy, and science to clearly illustrate the benefits of storythinking and how it can tremendously contribute to personal and societal growth. I would like to read more about the neuro-experiments performed by the author and how the brains of authors and audiences react to narration.

"Storythinking is contemplating why and what if. It’s conjecturing from causes to effects. It’s envisioning the consequences of different rules for action. It’s mentally modelling hypotheticals, possibles, counterfactuals, and other kinds of things that could happen. It’s using our cerebral machinery to stick original characters into never-before-seen story worlds and speculate on what happens next. It’s natural selection, imaginatively accelerated."

This book was provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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