December 23rd, 2013
Der Spiegel did a 10 question interview with me asking why I feel that global warming is the most “bo-ho-horing” topic in the history of humanity. Boring is not a good thing, but there is hope. It’s called “Narrative Training.” Which now completes my couplet of two articles this month: PROBLEM – BOREDOM (Der Spiegel), SOLUTION – NARRATIVE TRAINING (Science).
YES, THERE IS HOPE. It exists in the form of “Narrative Training.” Teach the good people to not be boring and you can change the world. (the catch is that most of the truly good people I know are kinda reeeaally boring)
HOPE FOR HUMANITY (KIND OF)
Got a couple fun things here. First, the German magazine Der Spiegel let me vent my spleen a bit on the innate tendency towards boredom among humanity in general in an article titled, “Filmmaker Randy Olson: Climate Change is Bo-Ho-Horing.”
Actually, the original German version from Axel Bojanowski is I think it much better than their English translation. A German friend of mine read it and said, “It’s very Douglas Adams.” Which sounded great to me since Douglas Adams is the guy who solved the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, which turned out to be 42. I’m afraid the English version feels a little less fun, and a lot more blunt. Something was clearly lost in translation.
Second, my letter in Science of three weeks ago did exactly what I had hoped — it flushed out the very sort of fellow from the humanities whom I knew must exist, yet had no way of finding. His name is Barry Woods, he is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Houston, and he teaches an undergraduate interdisciplinary course that is hugely popular and filled to capacity every year titled, “COSMIC NARRATIVES: A history of the Universe from its beginning to the present.”
Bingo. THAT is the guy I was hoping to meet — someone who has converged on the same answer as I (which is NARRATIVE INSTINCT), but from the humanities rather than the sciences. We had a great hour long phone chat then traded a bunch of emails. I knew his sort of thinking was out there, but it’s so hard to cross disciplines and find it.
For starters, he loved my term, “storyphobia,” in my letter because he has learned the same thing — scientists hate the word “story,” and yet are perfectly comfortable with the word, “narrative.” He sent me his syllabus. Every section is “the narrative” of this or that. And it’s easy to see the problem. If you replaced the word “narrative” with “story,” it would indeed sound pretty light weight — the first section of, “What are cosmic narratives? ” becomes, “What are cosmic stories ?” — the former sounds analytical, the latter sounds like Superman.
After matching notes on a whole bunch of things, my final question to him was, “Do you think narrative structure is the best possible antidote to being boring?” His answer was yes, he agrees.
And that’s it. I’ve been exploring one major question for the past 20 years of my life.
What makes the world boring and how do we avoid it?
There you go. The answer is as simple as 42.