Our Love of Narrative

So The Holmes wrote a great post that pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling about religion lately. One of the things I’ve been struggling with is our brain’s love of narrative (I know, crazy for a writer, right?). One of the things that I’ve heard people use to justify the idea of a God (any God) and an afterlife is that pretty much everyone on earth seems to think there’s something after death.

But I just wonder if that’s because our brains are hard-wired to invent narrative. What happens in a romantic movie after the final kiss and the credits roll? Our brains tell us that these people live a wonderful life, do wonderful things. But they’re characters in a story. And unless there’s a sequel, technically nothing happens. They’re gone. No thoughts. No actions. Nothing.

Our brains have a real problem with this concept. Sure if we think about it we can wrap our heads around the idea that at the end of Jurrassic Park the survivors don’t continue living their lives. It’s just credits and black. But we like to imagine new adventures. New lives. We do it naturally without even thinking about it. My brain thinks of the characters who are still alive at the end of the story as still being alive (which is definitely bizarre if you’re talking about a silent movie from the turn of the century).

Which, coming back to religion, I just wonder if this built in need for narrative is what drives our need for religion. Because we have a real problem with death being nothing. Not nothing like a black void. But nothing, as in no continued consciousness. Not watching our children grow old. Not hanging around in robes continuing our life on earth more or less with more singing. Just the end.

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. And my brain keeps suggesting alternatives. It really doesn’t like this idea of an unresolved narrative that just abruptly ends.

And that makes me wonder about the evolutionary function of it. As a species did we get too neurotic knowing that death could be around any corner and that was the end? Does this evolutionary delusion make us more productive and more likely to take risks thus increasing our genetic mixing?

I’ve been spending way too much time thinking about this.