On Island of the Idols, one of the lessons from Sandra and Boston Rob was about storytelling. Thriving on Survivor often depends on being able to tell convincing stories to explain behavior. (This is as true for the show’s editors as it is for the players.)
One reason that telling convincing stories is so important is that if we don’t provide them to explain our behavior, the people around us will usually create their own narrative explanations. And narratives created by others might be inaccurate, sometimes in ways that are harmful to us. As people working in public relations say, it’s often important to “control the narrative”. Dan, for example, has not provided a convincing narrative for his behavior, so others have found a narrative that seems to make more sense.
To a large degree, narratives can be boiled down to cause and effect. A narrative is a chain of causes leading to a particular event. It is not simply a chain of events. There is something connecting the events that seems to reasonably inspire each other (usually in only one direction – past to present, although some controversial thinkers like Slavoj Zizek have proposed that causes can be thought of as going from present to past as well). Without the prior event, the subsequent event might have been unlikely to occur (unless another event was also a reasonable cause for it).
David Hume pointed out that cause and effect are human paradigms for comprehending the world. As if to prove Hume’s point, machines usually don’t seem to need narratives. Artificial intelligence can find extremely successful patterns for predicting behavior without using cause and effect – simply by noting the probabilities of some events happening after others. However, despite these AI predictions being more successful than the causal narratives that humans create, they are often unsatisfying to us. We seem to crave narrative in a way that is only partially connected to success. Which might have something to do with how people sometimes cling to narratives that are bad predictors of behavior as long as those narratives make them feel good.