Thursday, June 20, 2013

Where is the narative?

I was just watching Tom Brokaw on The Daily Show. In talking about the cable news network coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, he said he kept asking himself, "where is the narrative". He went on to suggest that a narrative was necessary to tell the audience what they needed to know in addition to the information conveyed through the images that they were seeing.

It seems to me that one of the most important tools one has in analysis is to recognize that there is a pattern in what you are viewing that you can't explain. One says to oneself that there is either someone planning behind the scenes. or there is some kind of process that produces apparent pattern without planning/ (The obvious candidates are some kind of feedback process, or some kind of non random selection or weeding process.)

The detective novel aficionado uses this tool all the time. A detective novel presents a sequence of events and observations, and the detective susses out the cause hidden behind the events. Isaac Newton took an understanding of the patterns emerging from a huge set of astronomical observations, no doubt arranging the observations to highlight the pattern, and explained them with a theory of gravity -- the action of a hidden force from the sun on the planets. Chaos theory similarly seeks to find underlying patterns in seemingly random events such that certain kinds of equations can explain the pattern and the apparent randomness.

I suspect that often in real life we could benefit by saying:

  • Can I find a pattern here that I don't understand?
  • What could be behind this pattern? How could it come to exist?
  • What evidence could I find to help me believe in one more than other possible explanations?

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