The Psychology of What Makes a Great Story
“Stories,” Neil Gaiman asserted in his wonderful lecture on what makes stories last, “are genuinely symbiotic organisms that we live with, that allow human beings to advance.” But what is the natural selection of these organisms — what makes the ones that endure fit for survival? What, in other words, makes a great story? That’s what the great Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner (October 1, 1915–June 6, 2016), who revolutionized cognitive psychology and pioneered the modern study of creativity in the 1960s, explores in his 1986 essay collection Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (public library). In an immensely insightful piece titled “Two Modes of Thought,” Bruner writes: There are two modes of cognitive functioning, two modes of thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience, of constructing reality. Bruner calls these two contrasting modes the paradigmatic or logico-scientific, characterized by a mathematical framework of analysis and explanation, and the narrative.
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