Our place in the world

The human mind is structured around stories. Connecting things to stories, poems, songs, music and visual art makes this knowledge more real to us, charged with emotive power, which aids in the forming of memories. It helps us come to know things, and to know their place, by knowing ourselves more deeply as well. Storytelling helps us to find our place in the world.

This is from a fascinating article by Gene Tracy on how we’ve become increasingly disconnected from the stars.  

The entire article and this section in particular resonated with something I’ve been doin lately. 

A few months ago, my son received a star projector from his grandfather. This has become a part of our bedtime ritual. When I’m home in time for bedtime, we tell Nub Nub stories: these a creatures that have a secret hideout in the centre of the Earth and have adventures in the stars. 

The constellations are characters in these stories. We usually start with their various mythological stories and proceed from there. 

Over the past few months, both my son and I have become much more familiar with the constellations. It’s not something we set out to do, but sort of evolved over time. 

We have a much better knowledge of the stars than we would if I decided to teach him about the constellations and he had to memorise them. We may have done it, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun and we’d have no personal connection to those constellations. Bo├Âtes, for instance, is a constellation I’ve never paid much attention to, but he’s a pretty important character in the stories. 

This is something that I hope I’ll remember when there is something that my son needs to learn: we learn through storytelling and practice. Memorization and rote learning are usually not the way to mastery of a subject. 

Queries

  • I wonder if there is a time when rote learning trumps more experiential learning. The obvious one would be multiplication tables. I spent months memorizig these as a child. Now, however, my son’s school seems to be focusing on understanding how multiplication works, rather than memorization.
  • Tracy’s article mentions the extended mind. It’s an unteresting idea I’ve encountered before, but need to explore further.
  • I’m not sure I entirely agree with some of the conclusions of Tracy’s article: specifically that technology erodes put sense of place and the importance of storytelling. It’s an idea that goes back to Plato’s concerns about reading and the loss of memory. Is it more true now than it was then? Or isnthe technology just less familiar? Or do new technologies fron reading onward actually change us in ways that eventually become familiar and imperceptible?