The story of everything

What is the chief element of a story? Is it a thumping plot? Characters? Hidden meaning? Suspense? Surprise? Nope, nope, nope, nope and nope. The key component of a story is change. More specifically, it is cause and effect.

In fact, if we were to reduce every story throughout the entirety of time to one sentence, we couldn’t do much better than the following: something happens; someone is changed. This is easy to represent visually. Consider the three lines:

​The first is not a story because there’s no change. The second is a story, but it’s an admittedly boring one. The third is a true story. It has multiple causes which, in turn, take the story in different directions. 

The presence of a causal relationship—which, as we’ve said, is all a story is—is also the stuff of theories. Stories connect dots (causes) via lines (effects). Theories do the same. They organise isolated occurrences into a compelling narrative. I opened Rhizomatic Meta-Learning IV by describing the annals of modern science as a succession of organising insights. Really, the history of modern science is the history of organising stories, of stories that make things make sense.

I’m not a scientist, so I can’t do too much with this insight. But as an outsider, it does have a peculiar effect. It makes all scientific disciplines, firstly, more accessible, and secondly, seem less omnipotent, when you replace the word “theory” with “story”. For example, which instruction would you rather follow: ”Come, you must learn about loop quantum gravity, or, “Come, learn the tale of the many-worlds interpretation.” Would you rather read the theory of everything, or the story of everything?

This brings to mind another peculiar effect of changing the emphasis from theory to story. If scientists—or academics of any kind, really—were to present their theories to the world as stories, and see themselves more as storytellers, would their work not spread more comprehensively around the globe? And would this more comprehensive spreading not also compel more young minds to take up the torch of their discipline?

And finally, consider this. If within a story, something happens and something is changed, it’s also possible to say that the same occurs without a story. A story, or a good one at least, acts on the person is who is exposed to it. Thus, the story itself becomes the cause, and the person who experiences it and is changed by it is the effect.