The Best Thing My Psychic Mom Taught Me

I think of my mother (the fortune teller) each time I sit before my screen and begin to write. You have to speak in metaphors, in paradox, in symbolism, I hear her voice. You have to tell a story that will allow the client to experience the truth without you ever having to name it. I write first drafts as if I were turning over tarot cards, too: I scribble single, disjointed paragraphs until the right image of a character emerges.  And I think constantly of Mami’s biggest lesson: Nobody wants the truth, but everyone wants a story.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras writing in BuzzFeed News  

Tech history is poorly documented and poorly understood

It’s often near impossible to know why certain technologies flourished, or what happened to the ones that didn’t. While we’re still early enough in the computing revolution that many of its pioneers are still alive and working to create technology today, it’s common to find that tech history as recent as a few years ago has already been erased. Why did your favorite app succeed when others didn’t? What failed attempts were made to create such apps before? What problems did those apps encounter — or what problems did they cause? Which creators or innovators got erased from the stories when we created the myths around today’s biggest tech titans?

All of those questions get glossed over, silenced, or sometimes deliberately answered incorrectly, in favor of building a story of sleek, seamless, inevitable progress in the tech world. Now, that’s hardly unique to technology — nearly every industry can point to similar issues. But that ahistorical view of the tech world can have serious consequences when today’s tech creators are unable to learn from those who came before them, even if they want to.

Anil Dash writing in Medium

tell me a story

We naturally avoid ambiguity. We want black and white, right or left, up or down. The greys of life are so distasteful that when a cause is attached to any set of facts, we assume the "facts" are more likely to have really happened.

Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swain points out that if you ask someone, "How many people are likely to have lung cancer in the U.S.?" you might get a response like "half a million." But if you make one change to the question and ask, "How many people are likely to have lung cancer in the U.S. because of smoking cigarettes" you would get a much higher number. Why is that? Taleb suggests we tend to believe an idea is more likely to be true when a cause is attached to it.

Joey seemed happily married but killed his wife.

Joey seemed happily married but killed his wife to get her inheritance.

The first is broader and accommodate more possibilities. The second statement is more specific and less likely to be true.  But if you ask people which is more likely, more of them would say the second statement. Why?  The second statement tells us a story.

The narrative misguides us. We want an explanation, a back story. That's why it’s hard for us to look at a series of facts without weaving an explanation into them and tying the facts to the because. We like a good story-even when it misleads us about what is true. That's why you should be careful whenever you come across a because. Connecting causes to particular events must be handled with care.

Stephen Goforth

Prone to distortions

"By asking someone to repeat a story over and over again, essentially you start to see the story unravel," criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown explained in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning.

Those who say they have lived through trauma, however, are sometimes unable to articulate a coherent narrative owing to the brain's tendency to zero-in on only the most essential elements of what happened.

In general, our episodic memories are "prone to distortions" because they are, in essence, a "reconstruction" of events assembled from building blocks stored throughout the brain. The more we recall any single thing, the greater the chance becomes that we'll remove, or even insert, a block that's not supposed to be there.

A variety of influences can increase the probability that a recollection will contain erroneous bits. Decades of research by renowned American cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, for example, has shown that simple, well-crafted linguistic prompts can easily lead someone to unknowingly insert or omit false details into the retelling of a story.

That's not to say all memories contain inaccuracies. In fact, generally speaking, the human brain does an extraordinary job of encoding countless experiences every day.

But it would be too overwhelming to retain all of the information we take in throughout our lives. Research suggests that while we sleep, our brains whittle down experiences — not just traumatic ones — into their most useful parts to make more room, like freeing-up space on a hard drive.

More than a dozen universities participated in a survey that asked 2,100 Americans from across the U.S. about their memories of Sept. 11, one, three and 10 years after the attacks. When all was said and done, 40 per cent of participants told stories notably different than the one that emerged from their original answers. Interestingly as time passed, those whose answers changed significantly did not become less confident about the accuracy of their stories. The study is part of a huge body of evidence pointing to the reality that memory is malleable, vulnerable to the curious nature of our own neurobiology.

That doesn't mean we should be distrust it, says Simons, but rather, we should appreciate its limits.

Lucas Powers writing for CBC News


Resources for success

The stories we create to understand ourselves become the narrative of our lives, explaining the accidents and choices that have brought us to where we are: when I'm good at, what I care about most, and where I'm headed. If you're among the last kid standing on the sidelines as the softball teams are chosen up, the way you understand your place in the world likely changes a little, shaping your sense of ability and the subsequent paths you take. What you tell yourself about your ability plays a part in shaping the ways you learn and perform-how hard you apply yourself, for example, or your tolerance for risk-taking and your willingness to preserve in the face of difficulty.

But differences in skills, and your ability to convert new knowledge into building blocks for further learning, also shape your routes to success. Many of the best managers and coaches in pro sports were mediocre or poor players but happen to be exceptional students of their games.

Each of us has a large basket of resources in the form of aptitudes, prior knowledge, intelligence, interest, and sense of personal empowerment that shape how we learn and how we overcome our shortcomings. Some of these differences matter a lot-for example, our ability to extract underlying principles for new experiences and to convert new knowledge into mental structures.

Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Ambiguity and narrative

The discomfort with ambiguity and arbitrariness is equally powerful, or more so, in our need for a rational understanding of our lives. We strive to fit the events of our lives into a coherent story that accounts for our circumstances, the things that follow us, and the choices we make. Each of us has a different narrative that has many threads woven into it from our shared culture and experience of being human, as well as many distinct threads that explain the singular events of one's personal past. All these experiences influence what comes to mind in a current situation and the narrative through which you make sense of it: why nobody in my family attended college until me. Why my father never made a fortune in business. Why I'd never want to work in a corporation, or, maybe, why I would never want to work for myself. We gravitate to the narratives that best explain our emotions. In this way, narrative and memory become one. The memories we organize meaningfully become those that are better remembered. Narrative provides not only meaning but also a mental framework for imbuing future experiences andinformation with meaning, in effort shaping new memories to fit our establish constructs of the world and ourselves. The narrative of memory becomes central to our intuitions regarding the judgments we make and the actions we take. Because memory is a shape-shifter, reconciling the competing demands of emotions, suggestions, and narrative, it serves you well to stay open to the fallibility of your certainties: even your most cherished memories may not represent events in the exact way they occurred.

Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning