Does Not Compute · Collaborative Fund

Morgan Housel writing in Collaborative Fund makes a case for economists and others involved in finance re-thinking the role of rationality in the markets. Somehow he gets from re-thinking rationality to the importance of stories, noting toward the end of the essay:

Last is the power of stories over statistics. “Housing prices in relation to median incomes are now above their historic average and typically mean revert,” is a statistic. “Jim just made $500,000 flipping homes and can now retire early and his wife thinks he’s amazing” is a story. And it’s way more persuasive in the moment. If you look, I think you’ll find that wherever information is exchanged – wherever there are products, companies, careers, politics, knowledge, education, and culture – you will find that the best story wins. Great ideas explained poorly can go nowhere while old or wrong ideas told compellingly can ignite a revolution. (“[Does Not Compute][]”, 5 January 2022)

There is, of course, a great deal of research demonstrating that the ability story’s have of conveying to their audiences a sense of the lived experience, what some call qualia, is the source of their power. It’s sort of a version of “you were there” that is a product of our neurons firing similarly when we read about someone running as when we actually run.

There’s no sense that the same neurons fire for different people when running, nor is there much work yet, of which I am aware, that people are imagining similar running: each of us is our own heuristic horizon after all and bring different experiences and competencies to all our activities, including receiving narrative texts.

But there’s another dimension of the quote above that caught my eye, and it’s the story Housel embeds about Jim. Is it a story? Or is it simply a point of information, a fact? My sense is that it’s the latter, and thus I would argue that there are more modes of discourse that deliver up qualia than narrative. It may very well be the case that narrative discourse does it best, and I think many narratologists would agree, but we do need to get past the idea, I think that stories are the only form of discourse that do.

Does Not Compute

Leave a Reply