Neofoxes may actually be said to be specialists in one thing: Story.
Telling, hearing, finding, living … Story.
The first book we worked on together was PragMagic (Pocket Books, 1991). We distilled a decade of reporting that had appeared in Marilyn Ferguson’s Brain/Mind Bulletin, a newsletter that had become a clearinghouse for all kinds of research and discoveries in science, health, creativity, psychology, social sciences, and education. We took this information and turned it into a whopper of a self-help book. Throughout the book we emphasized Story: How can this or that piece of information be used to enrich the story of your life?
We still see the primacy of Story reasserted all over the place. I’m just now looking at a video of the legendary split-brain research pioneer Michael S. Gazzaniga talking about “your storytelling brain,” and how the human is a “storytelling animal.” And it doesn’t much matter whether our stories are “real” or “made-up.”
We once had the privilege of collaborating with cognitive philosopher Daniel C. Dennett on an experimental essay/story called “Media-Neutral,” which eventually appeared in our first novel The Jamais Vu Papers. In it, a psychiatrist discovers that he’s a character in a book—The Jamais Vu Papers, in fact. Desperate to understand how being fictional affects his life, our character goes to Dennett for advice. “Media-Neutral” was great fun to work on, and Dennett threw himself into his therapist-philosopher role wholeheartedly. (The piece was reprinted in Speculations: The Reality Club 1—click to download.)
In his book Consciousness Explained, Dennett likens the self to a center of gravity. One might object, “The trouble with centers of gravity is that they aren’t real; they’re theorists’ fictions.” Here is Dennett’s answer:
That’s not the trouble with centers of gravity; it’s their glory. They are magnificent fictions, fictions anyone would be proud to have created. And the fictional characters of literature are even more wonderful. Think of Ishmael, in Moby-Dick. “Call me Ishmael” is the way the text opens, and we oblige. We don’t call the text Ishmael, and we don’t call Melville Ishmael. We call Ishmael Ishmael, the wonderful fictional character to be found in the pages of Moby-Dick.
So we neofoxes are deeply committed to Story. In our memoir/essay “A Mexico of the Mind” (anthologized in Solamente en San Miguel, Windstorm, 2007), Pat and I offered this reflection:
Storytelling, like all art, like life, is an act of learning—of finding out. We are mistaken to assume that stories of transformation are only about transformation, mere illustrations. Instead, they are transformation itself, acts of practical alchemy, with the power to alter the reality of every receptive person they touch. (That’s why we must learn to recognize a hate-based tale in any garb, and admit that nothing holy feeds on pain.) As we live our stories and tell them, we learn what they are about … and they change … and they transform.