Saturday, January 10, 2009

Storytelling and statistics

I took up a pencil and paper and began trying to give a description of [the last] sixty seconds as a novelist might, and when I hit six pages I stopped--not because I was finished but because I was so far from finishing. I read the pages aloud, doing it as if I had a listener, and that took a little more than ten minutes. I totted up and figured: even an abbreviated retelling of one hour of my life would take ten hours to relate, and one working day--could I remember it all--would, with an hour of rest each day, require a week to retell, and that meant a single year needed seven years, and my half century of waking life would consume 350 years, about the time from the Mayflower till now.

While I may pass my life in continuity and completeness, I comprehend it only in discontinuous fragments; of the lives of people around me my understanding is utterly fractured and piecemeal: scraps, shavings, smithereens. Family or friends tell me a story in a few details, and I say, I see....

...To American Indians who believe that the past is to a people as dreams are to a person, stories are the communal snaggings of generations, the nets that keep people from free-falling toward pointlessness...and they are also the knots of matter that help people into dreamtime, where the listener, the traveler, can imagine he sees links between smithereens; from that hallucination, everything we value arises. I'm speaking about shards and grids and crossings, about that great reticulum, our past.

--William Least Heat-Moon, in Prairyerth.


"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
--Albert Einstein

Or, in another view of the matter, fooled by randomness.

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