For several years now, many software developers have been using stories to gather requirements as opposed to the traditional list of must statements as in "The system must allow the user to sort items by date and title." Such a story might read: A individual wants to reconcile their purchases against their billing history; once a month they will want to match up receipts by date and the store where they bought the items. This sort of brief story describes what a user wants to accomplish with the software and it provides greater context and guidance than the bare must statements. I was reminded of this practice when my sister was bemoaning her readers preference for stories about ancient people to a more scientific recitation of archaeological results.
My growing suspicion is that we humans are built to receive and understand stories better than either descriptions of sense data or declarations of laws. This runs counter to the empiricist's belief that we can be understood as the accumulation of the sensations we have experienced. Remembering that in this last sentence we are both the thing being understood and the recipient of the understanding.
As suggested by Chung Tzu's "Pleasure of Fishes", I propose that we are better able to understand the emotional states of others than to come to a common understanding of sense data. To support this contention, I suggest the following:
(1) There is a common experience in failing to agree on experience. We all may have a different reckoning of the whether a room is hot or cold; a day is bright or merely not cloudy; a taste was sweet or savory. And will argue the facts amongst ourselves. This breaks the strong notion that sense data provide a easy basis for communication.
(2) We are social animals and one of the first things we learn as a baby is to communicate our emotional states to our parents. We also learn to detect when our parents are in a "bad mood" and should not be bothered with new demands. This continues on into adult life with the addition that when we believe they are inappropriate we attempt to mask our feelings with lesser or greater success.
(3) Scientific studies have been suggesting for quite a while that our memories are controlled, organized and colored by our emotional states both at the time the memory is formed and when it is recalled.
(4) Religious teachings in the form of stories or parables appear far less open to abuse and re-interpretation than more direct thou shalt or shalt not statements. The creation story being the exception that demonstrates the generality; and then the story is generally mis-told by those supporting "creationism."
We struggle mightily with the failure of language to clearly communicate our understanding of the world. The problem may not be that language needs to be reformed but that our messages are too often "disembodied" and our language works best at transmitting stories. A story reflects "embodied reason"; it has a persona (a point of view) and reflects a change in circumstance from before to after. This embodied message is more complete and may make more sense to humans than a disembodied statement of fact standing outside the flow of time and with an unexpressed point of view.

Also see TheBoyWhoToldWolfStories

Created by steve. Last Modification: Monday 05 of September, 2005 10:08:57 EDT by steve.