Borges, Boyer and Atran

In the wonderful Borges episode of BBC’s Arena:

We find this snippet of interview:

INTERVIEWER: Borges, you speak of HG Wells. In what way did he influence you?

BORGES: I think he taught me that a fantastic story should – to be accepted by the imagination, he said that his stories used only one fantastic element. For example, he wrote Invisible Man, about a lone invisible man in London. Then another, The War of the Worlds, where the world is invaded by people from Mars, but he didn’t write a story about invisible inhabitants of Mars invading the Earth. That would have staggered belief.

In his stories he only had one fantastic thing, and all the rest was common place and believable. I have done the same thing.

And from this Scott Atran interview on (among other things) the cognitive structure of religious beliefs:

Religious worlds with supernaturals who manage our existential anxieties — such as sudden catastrophe, loneliness, injustice and misery – are minimally counterintuitive worlds. An experimental setup for this idea is to consider a 3 x 4 matrix of core domains (folkphysics, folkbiology, folkpsychology) by ontological categories (person, animal, plant, substance). By changing one and only one intuitive relationship among the 12 cells you then generate what Pascal Boyer calls a “minimal counterintuition.” For example, switching the cell (− folkpsychology, substance) to (+ folkpsychology, substance) yields a thinking talisman, whereas switching (+ folkpsychology, person) to (− folkpsychology, person) yields an unthinking zombie. But changing two or more cells simultaneously usually leads only to confusion. Our experiments show that minimally counterintuitive beliefs are optimal for retaining stories in human memory (mains results have been replicated by teams of independent researchers, see for example articles in the most recent issue of the Journal of Cognition and Culture).

The truth is seldom found in only one place.

This entry is part of my journal, published April 6, 2013, in New York.