THURSDAY, FEB 4, 2016
Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS
TOPICS: HOMO NARRATOR, FROM THE WIRES, STORY OF MERIT
TUCSON (A-P) — Humans are the storytelling animal, Homo narrator, so of all stories that have been told, of the ones we can tell, what is the greatest? The first fork in our road is to think of all stories humans have made up, verses those that we have come to know of and thereby are able to tell. Of all the possible stories that we did not invent, we can tell but an unimaginable few, mostly concerning events on our home planet, only a few of which we know something of. The story of Urg, who singlehandly saved his extended family (tribe) from a rampaging bull mastedon, was never written down before his people were made to go away (die) by the Hwiche pastoralists whose story is also untold. We thus must leave most stories of this world and all stories of other worlds untold because unknown. Any stories we have to tell will be of this world, real or imagined. So pick:
1) a story of fiction?
2) a story of what-is?
We may consider Odysseus or Don Quixote, perhaps Capitan America or Superman, but all anthropomorphic stories would be of interest only to humans and perhaps a few exosociobiologists. Does the concept "great" reference human interests? Most humans may think so, but "Oftenwrong" could be our middle name.
We could tell of Apollo, who deigned to include music among his talents, but of his music we have only made-up stories to tell. Would not a story of a real musician be of greater interest, especially it there were compositions to testify? Would not the story of Beethoven, ending with a hearing of his 9th, be far more impressive than any tale told of Apollo's imagined feats? Would not the story of any bat, a chiropteran extrodinaire as all are, born of a real mother, who nursed upside down, who could actually fly and beget more like unto itself, offer a greater story than any Batman or Joker?
Should we put the question to a vote? Only humans could vote, of course, and so putting the question to a vote sounds good to some and will be widely approved. If all humans were to vote (perhaps by global decree under penalty of death), including the illiterate, what would be a likely outcome? An actual vote would be of interest, but until put to the test we can but wonder. Group identity is often defined by shared stories and the largest group might be expected to win, but only a few groups take their stories uniformly serious. Only a few have members in such lock-step that they would do what their leaders say. Scientists would merely laugh if told to vote for the story of Newton, though some would despite being told to.
Many Christians would be told who to vote for, would be entreated to watch the movie again, and many would do as told. They do outnumber Muslims, who would likely vote for a different story, but more Muslims have been conditioned from childhood to firmly believe in Koranic inerrancy, so more may do as their imams say than Christians do as their leaders say. Christians are more fragmented and some would vote for Joseph Smith. There are too few Maoists or Stalinists left to do as told, so it is not clear whether the story of Jesus or Mo would prevail. Though I wouldn't vote for him, I would bet on Mo winning, given the evidence-based demographics.
But let's not put it to a vote. Only matters of preference (of taste) should be, and human preferences are boring other than to humans. To not belabor the obvious, let's relegate all stories of fiction to late night reading in bed. Of all stories we know of, whose should we tell?
Human stories are not excluded. We have built large pyramids to immortalize the egos of a few pharaohs; some have erected statues enough to cover an island before defacing them. We even put a few men on the moon to win a space race with the Evil Empire. Putting men on the moon is a contender, but told in the context of the story of fossil-fueled human technosupremacy over Earth and the life of it, done to plant a flag on another world for a fraction of the amount spent on beer ($1.7 trillion/year or 1.3 x the entire cost of the Apollo program per month and to compare the spin off benefits of Apollo to the secondary costs of beer....don't ask), the story hardly seems great. Noteworthy, but not great.
There are contenders other than human. Dinosaurs and their flying descendants come to mind, but other minds will think of other worthies. Rather than list possible contenders, I'll cut to my vote for greatest story.
Part of "greatest" is a story that should be told, assuming only one story can be, because it merits the telling. Why? Because it might not otherwise be known. If all knowledge of dinosaurs is lost, a fossil record would remain to be read and tell the tale. If written in a form that could survive the passing of a few millenia, so what? If a copy of the story, written on gold, were left on the moon and in 100 million years explorers were to find it, they might learn something provided they had not explored Earth first. If they had, they might marvel at how little the bipedal apes had learned of the dinosaurs.
My choice is for a great story not likely to be preserved in the fossil record, a story we humans have but learned of recently, one that is likely to be lost to the ages if we do not tell it. It is the story of North America's canary, the Monarch butterfly.
Once numbering in the billions, only a remnant population remains (~15%). If their story is only told on paper in the lingua of the day, or on digital media unreadable by firelight, humans, such as may remain, may well have forgotten the Monarchs in the mere passing of a century or two.
The greatest story ever told should be readable by any human no matter what their mother-tongue may be, likely one unknown today, or if known, by any speaker of over 6,000 languages currently spoken, and written on a material that can last the ages and be readable by candlelight. Assuming a Rosetta Book that any would-be reader, human descendant or visiting alien, could use to teach themselves the language the greatest story (and perhaps others) is written in, then the story could be told to the ages.
As storytelling animals, let us endeavor to tell our stories well and to the ages. Stories written in English, Chinese, or Arabic are not for the ages. Only an ideographic language, such as used for mathematics, can tell numerate stories. Only an ideographic language, starting with pictures, transitioning to drawings, to simpler line drawing, and on to largely pictographic symbols with such few wholly abstract symbols as needed, can tell literate stories that may outlast their storytellers.
As for the Monarch story, it has yet to be written in Bliss or printed on gold plates. Until then, while we have the technology to view the story, let David Suzuki tell the tale: