The Story of Consciousness

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sto·ry

/ˈstôrē/

noun

  1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

  2. An account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something.

  3. A widely ciruclated rumor.

  4. A lie, a falsehood.

  5. Legend, romance.

  6. Matter, situation.

  7. A set of rooms within a space between the floors of a building.

So many stories… Photo by Sindre Aalberg

So many stories… Photo by Sindre Aalberg

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
— Maya Angelou, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"

Just like the floor of an apartment building, a narrative is insular to itself.

Once a story is created, its parts exist in perpetuity: no matter how many times you watch MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, that movie will always begin in black and white. Dorothy will alway cry when she’s captured by the witch; and inevitably her ruby slippers will take her home. Complete and encapsulated with a beginning, middle and end — a movie, TV show, or book of fiction can be flipped through and reviewed with discretion. And while the reader may be affected by the narrative insofar that the narrative is provocative; the narrative does no physical harm to the reader. Just as in a dream, the suffering is real only within the confines of the story, where it must feel real in order to be purposeful. The reader/dreamer/audience experiences whatever befalls a character through identification with them; and to this end, despair can be gulped down like cold coffee, passions tasted like a ripe strawberry, and victory sipped like champagne.

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It’s not real, it’s only a story.
— Sebastian, The Neverending Story

At its root, story telling is an exploration of consequences. When we go to the theater to see a “play,” we watch the actions and reactions of the story play out on a stage from a comfortable vantage point. From our seat in the audience we can view “mistakes” as narrative forks in the road, without which the story would be boring. When characters make choices, whether they are “right” or “wrong,” what follows are the dominoes of inevitability, the stuff stories are made of. The hero or the villain mounts his horse in a reactionary effort, and across this battlefield of changing fortunes various players are poised to act in their own best interests — each with a different perspective about what serves their needs. Along the way, more dominoes await the “right” mistakes to nudge them into motion.

What better tool than the arc of a narrative to form opinions and catalyze growth? When we have a complete narrative arc, we can examine mistakes and know that if only another choice had been made, everything would have turned out differently. The arc is effective because it imitates the storyline of our own lives — our lives being complete with beginnings, middles, and ends…

Some of the most satisfying stories are the ones where favorable outcomes are found even though the worst mistakes have been made. This idea that we can put the pieces back together, or rearrange them to make something new and better out of the thing we have broken pleases the human mind to no end; because all to often this does not happen in real life. The primary lesson of the manifest world is that you cannot put the cat back in the bag. When the “milk is spilt” and the “dye is cast,” what’s done is done; so it’s quite logical that we generate fantasies to exist in contrast to what cannot be undone. What’s more, we canonize real life happenings of magnitude — whether horrible or wonderful, in order to celebrate, glorify or horrify the significance that these events happened at all. And yet I still marvel at the existential purpose of a story. After all, while they might exist inside a physical object like a book or a DVD, stories are intangible, whether they began as fact or fiction.

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Let’s look at the phenomena of fiction for a moment, and imagine someone like Tolkien or Martin of Rowling, alone in their study dreaming up worlds and pounding away at the keys. As a storyteller, a spinner of narrative, one is tasked with becoming many. In order to create the identities of the heroes, the villains, and everyone in between, a storyteller must embody these characters and fracture themselves into the witch, the dragon, the princess, the boy, the crone, the king, the scholar, the barbarian — fleshing each archetype with its own substance and point of view. Once completed, a narrative reveals the interwoven threads of perspectives playing against each other… and once again we see evidence of the hologram of consciousness expressing itself: one consciousness cloaks itself in the form of many, for its own entertainment, curiosity, edification, and satisfaction. Another beautiful example of the polar relationship between one and everything.

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And whether or not we are storytellers ourselves, or simply consumers of content — we each live within the story of our own lives. Simultaneously, we also live within the story of human beings, the story of the earth, the story of the solar system, the story of our galaxy… the story of the universe exhaling. And we go on gossiping and making up stories within the stories of our lives to pass the time. And again my wheels start turning and I find myself wondering like the rest of you, what is the point?

The pattern of this behavior is the point. Stories are the trees that bear the fruits of consciousness, as consciousness continually replicates itself. Consciousness cannot help but be what it is. The point of the story, is the story. The way I see it, a story feeds perspective and curiosity — two old friends that often walk hand in hand together through the valleys and vistas that range emotions and experiences. The value of a story comes from its very intangibility — the information it conveys. Combine intangibility, perspective and curiostiy and what have you got? The calling card of consciousness. As conscious beings we are constantly generating stories, whether they be from our dreaming minds, the lives we are living, or the gossip we share. We cannot help but constantly imagine a spectrum of possibilities, so we tell ourselves stories in order to learn from our mistakes, relieve anguish over what cannot be undone, and explore our flights of fancy...

The existence of stories demonstrates the mechanism by which the manifest world reciprocates the unmanifest, and precipitates more consciousness.

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P.S. Here’s an interesting tidbit from Vonnegut on the shapes of stories. Notice the waveform! It’s all about the ups and downs, baby!