We constantly imagine pictures, or create muscle memory, or devise stories to help us recall how to perform tasks, analyze problems, and relate to other people. We tend to learn these methods from each other, rather than invent new ones, and consequently both good and inefficient strategies are passed along. The strategies suffice if they’re relatively effective. They needn’t be perfect, as evolutionary theory shows.
At a 2000 conference on the subjects of autobiography, biography, and memoir, Michal Govrin said the story writes us all. “Whenever we write, we shape things,” she said, and biography—the story—is a metaphor for the process of acculturation. There is, she reminded the audience, often a preconceived plot. People try to tell their stories in a certain way, to conform to a belief structure.
Most illuminating was Govrin’s conclusion: “It is very difficult to leave a story.”