Narrative and Metaverse
Part 1: The Living Word
Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange! Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
I've spent a thirty-five year professional career spanning academia, technology companies, and Wall Street studying "linguistic patterns in unstructured data" ... or what are more commonly known as narratives. After all these years of probing this invisible world of stories and memes and scripts and tropes and archetypes, I've come to an inescapable conclusion that excites me to no end and also scares the hell out of me.
Narratives are as real and as alive as you and me.
When I say that narratives are alive, I don't mean this as a metaphor. I truly believe that narratives are an alien lifeform in exactly the same way that viruses are an alien lifeform. Neither is directly observable or easily comprehensible within the human-scale macroverse - the familiar world of Newtonian physics and multicellular DNA-based organisms where all us humans, past, present and future, live out our lives. But there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in the macroverse.
Both narratives and viruses have a lifecycle of purpose and intention - they are born, they grow, they respond to their environment, they reproduce and they die - all in service to preserving the existence of their kind. Both can be organized and understood through the same principles of species taxonomy as any organism in the macroverse, and both are subject at the species level to the same forces of natural selection as any species in the macroverse. We can't see them. We can't hear them. We can't feel them. They are not even made of the same building blocks as you and me. But I tell you that both narratives and viruses are alive, each a dominant lifeform within its respective world.
The world of viruses is the microverse, an invisible and completely alien world of infinitesimal scale.
A note on the use of the word 'alien' here, which is the most ruined word in the English language. We've turned the word into a joke, into the common usage for little green men or anthropomorphic 'alien races' that are non-human mostly by declaration, but in truth are intensely human and perfectly familiar to us in intentionality and behavior. The only science fiction writer today who gets close to preserving the true meaning of the word - and I am convinced it's because he doesn't write in English - is Liu Cixin.
When I use the word 'alien', I mean it in its true sense. I mean it as something that is profoundly non-comprehensible on its own terms, that is - like the microverse - only comprehensible through the use of human-scaled and macroverse-familiar objects like bouncy balls and suction cups and bright colors and hunter/prey animations.
No one believed in the microverse 200 years ago. Germ theory wasn't even a thing. We had no words for a 'virus', and everyone in the world would have looked at you funny if you had said that these infinitesimally small packages of nucleic acid were real and alive. But today we all believe in germ theory. Today we all believe that viruses are real and alive, albeit in a truly alien way and within a truly alien world that no human has ever directly felt, heard, smelled, tasted or seen.
I'm asking you to give the same consideration to narratives. I'm asking you to allow for the possibility that there is another alien world besides the microverse, an alien world where narratives are born, grow, respond to their environment, reproduce and die. Where narratives are real and alive, albeit in a truly alien way and within a truly alien world that no human has ever directly felt, heard, smelled, tasted or seen.