Basically, we all walk around with a bunch of stories in our heads about the way the world works. We have stories for everything – how to brush our teeth, how to drive a car, what love is and who the good guys are. They’re like shortcuts. We string together daily events and data into believable and satisfying narratives in order to explain life; then we use those stories to make decisions and solve problems.
The stories we hold simplify the complexity of the world and make it less confusing. This is why we tend to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs. It’s less overwhelming that way. When we are confronted with novel information, that new data gets filtered through the stories in our head. If the data agrees with our stories, we allow that information in; if it doesn’t, we reject it. This means our stories create blind spots and make us prone to making decisions based on habit, hope, fear, and using whatever information is available to confirm our choices. In these situations, we trust our tribe, those with whom we feel affinity, and are skeptical of all others. This can make our stories feel supercharged, compelling us to defend one side or the other. Once this happens, the conflict feeds on itself and the us-versus-them narrative takes over, making us immune to accepting new information, even when it is evidence-based.
While people tend to simplify, pigeonhole and demonize we also share a desire for understanding. In order for new information to be accepted, we need to have a story in our heads that will allow that data to be accepted. Breaking through tribalism involves finding ways that allow us to see a broader picture, honor a range of voices, build trust, and connect with a myriad of points of view. We need new stories and new platforms that give us ways to receive these unfamiliar stories.
Visual and multi-sensory information is processed differently than words. It gets through at a visceral level so that new perspectives can be considered that would otherwise be rejected. It moves people past their particular perspectives and differences so we can experience our common humanity. When we experience commonality we become able to work together toward mutually beneficial goals.
An arts and science narrative has the capacity to do just this. Combining the arts with science brings together both sides of our brains. It rises past politics, and reaches deep into our hearts, to ignite emotions and fuel social action. Immersive art and science installations give us a way to receive new stories with a common narrative: to build a more just and sustainable world inspired through art and informed by truth.
The stories we tell matter.