On Stories

What is a story?

A story is a series of imagined sequence of events which may or may not be based on true events. The story takes place somewhen, somewhere. A story may take place in the past, or the present or the future. A story may take place in a real place, or an imaginary one (even the surface of a neutron star!). A story has characters and a narrator (can there be a story without either?). Sometimes the characters tell us the story. Sometimes the narrator tells us the story. Some stories are fun, some are dark, others are just boring. A good story is like a fishing hook. It will compel the listener, and keep them eager for what happens next. It is the anticipation of events, which makes a story interesting. What good would be a story if you knew exactly what is going to happen? They say don’t let facts ruin a good story. But facts themselves can make a great story. Reality is stranger than fiction. Reality is a fractal. More you look deeper you see. The mundane becomes the mysterious. Everyday thing becomes enigmatic.

Timeless stories

There are stories which endure time. They were perhaps told since humans acquired language. Perhaps the enormous capacity of language to express imagination was developed to tell the stories. Stories are culture. Stories give us identity. Stories give us rules and norms. Stories make us who we are. Stories tell us about gods, about demons, about magical beings, about kings, about heaven and hell.

Visual Stories

Not all stories have words. Some stories are told via images. Before the written word, images were the only permanent thing. The spoken word is ephemeral, while images endure. Spoken word is for people who are present then and there, the image can transcend time and distance. The images can be somewhen, somewhere other than where and when it was created. Spoken words live only in the present.

Variations on a Theme

Stories change. When a story is told from one person to another, while retelling the person will inadvertently make changes. Though core idea of the story may remain same, some of the details may change. Thus stories multiply. Language is not a barrier. Same story can be told in different languages. Characters, places may change but the stories remain the same. It is like a person wearing different outfits suitable for the local environment.


But how do stories get made? Who makes them? Well, we make stories.

Each one of us has stories to tell. Some people are good at telling them, some aren’t. The good stories stick around. They pass on. From person to person, from generation to generation. From parents to children. From elders to youth. From friends to friends. From teachers to students. Storytellers form a network. Stories link them to those who came before them and those who come after them.



Stories evoke emotions. Some make us laugh, some make us cry. Some us happy, some make us sad. Some take us on adventures we will never be able to go. Some make us confront our deepest fears and invoke terror in us. Some make us feel elated, and inspire us to do things. Some possess wisdom, some are just folly. Some stories are about mundane things. Some stories are about mysteries. Some stories you can readily identify with, some are so alien to our experience.

Stories are Everything

Without stories we are nothing. We relate to others via stories in which we are the characters. Everyone has at least one story to tell, their own story. Will your life be a story worth telling others?

Implicit cognition in the visual mode

Images become iconified, with the image representing an object or
phenomena, but this happens by enculturation rather by training. An
example to elaborate this notion is the painting Treachery of
Images by Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte. The painting is
also sometimes called This is not a pipe. The picture shows a
pipe, and below it, Magritte painted, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”,
French for “This is not a pipe.”
When one looks at the painting, one
exclaims “Of course, it is a pipe! What is the painter trying to say
here? We can all see that it is indeed a pipe, only a fool will claim
otherwise!” But then this is what Magritte has to say:

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you
stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had
written on my picture `This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!

Aha! Yess! Of course!! you say. “Of course it is not a pipe! Of
course it is a representation of the pipe. We all know that! Is this
all the painter was trying to say? Its a sort of let down, we were
expecting more abstract thing from the surrealist.” We see that the
idea or concept that the painting is a \emph{representation} is so
deeply embedded in our mental conceptual construct that we take it for
granted all the time. It has become so basic to our everyday social
discourse and intercourse that by default we assume it to be so. Hence
the confusion about the image of the pipe. Magritte exposes this
simple assumption, that we so often ignore. This is true for all the
graphics that we see around us. The assumption is implicit in all the
things we experience in the society. The representation becomes the
thing itself, for it is implicit in the way we talk and communicate.
Big B and D
When you look at a photo of something or someone, you recognize
it. “This is Big B!” you say looking at the painting! But then you
have already implicitly assumed that the representation of Big B is Big B. This implicit assumption comes from years of implicit training from being submerged in  the sea of the visual artefacts that surround and drown us. This association between the visual representation and the reality it represents had become the central theme of the visual culture that we live in. The training that we need for such an association comes from the peers and mentors that surround us from the childhood. The meaning and the association of the images is taught/caught over the years, so much so that we assume the abstract association is the normal way things are. In this way it becomes the implicit truth, though when one is pressed, the explicit connections are brought out.
Yet when it comes to understanding images in science and mathematics, the same thing doesn’t happen. There is no enculturation of children into understand the implicit meaning in these images. Hardly there are no peers or mentors whose actions and practices can be imitated by the young impressible learners. The practice which comes so naturally in other domains (identifying actor with a picture of the actor, or identifying a physical space with a photo) doesn’t happen in science and mathematics classrooms. The notion of practice is dissociated from the what is done to imbibe this understanding in the children. A practice based approach where the images become synonymous with their implied meaning is used in vocabulary might one very positive way out, this is after all practitioners of science and mathematics learn their trade.