The power of stories is a result of their being an innate part of human beings. Provided they are engaging and follow even a simple dramatic arc, the simplest narratives can produce the release of neurochemicals like cortisol, which focuses attention, and oxytocin, which affects empathy. Humans respond to narratives from very early in life. Narratives are a form of “mental imprint” that can mold perceptions and touch the unconscious mind; create patterns and structures of life events, provide insights into life and human nature, and reflect the unconscious needs of human beings; and are central to the way humans perceive everything in our world.
In life idea and emotion come separately. Mind and passions resolve in different spheres of humanity, rarely coordinated, usually at odds…But whereas life separates meaning from emotion, art unites them. Story is an instrument by which you create such epiphanies at will…In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time. In art, they are meaningful now, at the instant they happen. (McKee, 1997, pp. 110-11)
Narratives can bring order to the chaotic flow of events in the world around us, enabling us to comprehend what is happening.
Understanding the role of intellect and emotion in decision-making processes is important when determining how to present information in a scenario, forecasting, or other futures-oriented projects.
Futures projects by their very nature are intended to challenge existing perceptions, mental models, and organizational structures. As a result they often provoke a range of emotional responses – uncertainty, confusion, insecurity, fear, and others – that lead to resistance to change. One of the most significant applications of storytelling from the perspective of foresight professionals is their use helping manage these emotions.
I recently did a presentation to the Data Ecologies 2014 symposium on the role of stories in communicating about the future. You can see the presentation slides below or by going to Slideshare. Over the next few posts I will provide more detail to fill in the presentation’s framework on doing worldbuilding and the creation of future worlds.