Saturday, August 3, 2019

Introducing Narrative Theory (tm) (Name Pending)

I'm officially introducing Narrative Theory (tm) Name Pending. Yep, that's the official name for now, until I can think of a better one.

A little bit about what this theory is, what it isn't, and it's origin. First, the origin.


This theory is the culmination of years of thinking about myself (did you hear that? that's the sound of all my exes rolling their eyes), about others, about thinking, and trying to synthesize the patterns by which everything operates. It what happens when an attorney with a passion for logic marries a therapist with a passion for understanding life and improving herself. Then they have a kid with super-high anxiety and a habit of introspecting and introverting.

This theory is very much built upon my understanding of the mechanics of my happiness and happiness in general based on years of meditating, reflecting, and attending retreats. It's rooted in my belief in science, which is to say, the best way to apprehend how things work is through logic, experimentation, and observation, rather than faith. But the experimentation we're going to talk about is on a super-subtle level, involving variables essential to the scientific process themselves such as our thinking and our desire to understand. My hope is that we'll come to see that the natural (as opposed to metaphysical) laws that govern the mind are the same mechanics that govern so-called "spiritual" experiences.

This theory is also the result of my experience counseling others, both formally and informally, and the result of my education in university and as a therapist. It's based on things I've absorbed deeply, the things that have made me narrow my eyes in skepticism, and the things that have left me utterly confused. In fact, it's mostly about the last one. I've always felt like there were so many basic features of life, psychology, personality, and relationships that just lacked an adequate system or framework for explaining and understanding. Narrative Theory (tm) Name Pending is that framework. It's the broad framework upon which we can understand and begin making sense of our experience.


Narrative theory is an ambitious attempt to deconstruct, organize, and classify the fundamental components of our experience that are essential to our sense of self, our interactions with others, and our well-being.

We'll start with a deconstruction of experience to identify the fundamental elements of narratives. We'll look at how those building blocks function together to build perspectives and, along the way, introduce some new concepts to help us get there. We'll introduce a classification system to help make sense of our various narrative styles. And we'll talk about meta-properties of narratives that will have some interesting consequences later on.

Next we'll look at some applications of narrative theory as they relate to the individual. We'll talk about our sense of self and value, the rules by which we come to determine that value, and how that value plays an integral role in our interactions and the fate of our narratives. We'll look at some common issues that people encounter like depression and anxiety through the lens of narrative to gain a deeper understanding of them. Then we'll talk about addressing those issues with different techniques.

Third, we'll look at conflict. We'll look at how narratives interact with each other out in the wild. We'll look at the situations in which narrative conflict arises--relationships, law, the workplace, family and friends, and political disputes--and we'll analyze them through the lens of Narrative Theory. We'll identify the rules that govern narrative interaction and discuss dispute resolution.

We'll talk about attraction and relationships, and the role of framing in meeting people, and leaving people.

Finally, we'll talk about special topics: things that don't fit neatly into the organization above but are too cool not to mention.

The word theory here is being used not to describe a hypothetical idea, as in, when people say "I have a theory about something." It's more a system for understanding events, in the same way Einstein's theory of relativity was a framework for understanding time, space, and matter. In the same way that Einstein's theory made predictions that made the theory testable, Narrative Theory (tm) Name Pending will make testable predictions.


My first goal is that this theory gives you insight into human nature and more importantly, your own nature. My wish is that you come away with a better understanding of the fluctuations and vicissitudes of your own mind. I want you to have deeper insight and clarity when it comes to conflict, including what's happening, how to defend yourself, and how to resolve it.

The second goal is based on the first, and that is, that insight will spur wise action. It's not enough to know. We have to know what to do with that information, and here we might have to travel outside of the realm of science and into something else. It's not faith, but it's something else.

Third, I want this framework to serve as a foundation for others to develop more ideas and expand and enrich this framework. For as long as I can remember I've fantasized about the democritization of science and the collection of information, while simultaneously expressing a disdain for the business of science and publishing that's exercised control over the "gates of knowledge" like an asshole bouncer that only lets in people who look rich. Not only has it led to a sequestering of knowledge and harmful stratification of people into scientists and everyone else, it's led to a drastic metering of scientific and intellectual pursuit, one that's desperately needed in today's age. Let's bring science back to the people and make discoveries together.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

This Life is Dedicated to . . .

It's been a while since I've last posted here, and a lot has been going on. I've been working on some ideas and frameworks that, I hope, will provide a useful model for social interactions, conflict, thinking, and psychology, all inspired and informed by my Zen practice. I'm tentatively calling it Narrative Theory and I may start explicating it here on this blog.

I've also had a few more serious things happen in my life that have taken my emotions and thoughts for a journey lately. And along that journey, I've made a few observations I thought were worthy of sharing. Also, I need to break the ice somehow, so here goes.

I was exercising at the gym on Friday after work and the television was on. It was Chris Cuomo on CNN, serving the outrage du jour. I considered listening which would have had the intended consequence of pissing me off for 2 reasons: first, whatever Trump's administration was plotting in this week's episode of Whitehouse Shitstorm always seems to boil my blood; second, because it would have interrupted an ongoing 3-day marathon of Rhianna's Needed Me (I'm still listening on repeat as of 2:45pm Sunday, god help me).

But instead, what struck me is the polish and status of Cuomo. A handsome guy, telling us what's up, broadcast on national television. He's made it. He's achieved success and all its symptoms: fame, beauty, money, respect, influence. Right?

Brief detour: when I was a kid my best friends and I used to play the arcade game Area 51 almost religiously. It was a shooting game where you had to kill aliens, avoid killing humans, and along the way could collect different power-ups like better weapons and shoot barrels and windows to earn more points.
Area 51 arcade game screenshot. I bet you didn't know aliens wore berets.

At the end of the level, the game would show you how many point you had accumulated in all the different categories: kills, damage, accuracy, etc., and your overall score.

Life is the same way, and I wouldn't be surprised if competitive games clicked with our culture because of the way it mimics life. We're all trying to accumulate maximum points before our game is over. The question is what categories the points come in. We're going to call it THE SCORING SYSTEM.

The categories in the modern world have some degree of uniformity: material wealth, popularity, influence, beauty, security, and offspring with similar qualities. Chris Cuomo has it. Celebrities are portrayed as having it. And we're all constantly told these categories matter by the way others praise these qualities, subtly and overtly. You see it on Instagram and Facebook all the time. You hear the way others talk about people's achievements and failures over brunch or drinks.

The scoring system is transmitted within culture through multiple channels and from various sources. So it's no wonder we all end up wanting the same things, trying to score points in the same categories, making similar life decisions with similar goals in mind.

But there's a problem.

As long as we're trying to earn points in a scoring system that we've inherited, rather than consciously selected, we're always going to be living inauthentic lives, and the "success" we achieve (and the satisfaction that follows it) will always dissolve. It won't bring you closer to the feeling you think is waiting for you when you cross the finish line, because you'll realizing you were running in the wrong race.

If we want to live authentic lives that bring meaning, we need to arrive at a PERSONAL SCORING SYSTEM. We have to transcend the default scoring system and decide what categories matter to us. The method for doing that is introspection, inquiry, fearlessness, and brutal honesty. We have to ask ourselves what truly matters in this life. What experiences? What principles? What virtues? What outcomes? The answer has to come from the gut, in a flash of intuition rather than analytical thinking. When it comes, it hits you. It strikes a chord that's both rare and familiar. It's an experience you have to have. If you're not emotionally aroused, you aren't there yet.

The path you take to earn points in our scoring system will depend on the person you are, your innate talents (discovered and latent), the situation you're in, the challenges you've conquered, and the ones you've yet to conquer. Dedicate your life to what matters to you.

I'm not going to pretend like I'm the first person to say this. Platitudes about life are traded more often than fur pelts in New France in 1612 (too soon?). But there's a difference between talking about this stuff and putting it into practice. So I challenge you, the reader, to ask yourself what you stand for, what matters, and what you'll dedicate your life to, no matter the cost.