This will be an online talk using Zoom, follow the Tuesday Complexity Seminar Online link.
It is a commonplace of science communication, indeed of effective public communication in general, that you should tell a story. It is also, I think, well established that it is difficult to give a narrative account of a complex systemic process, or that any such narrative account will do a bad job of explaining its systemic qualities. Narrative, one of our major communicative resources, is peculiarly unfit for such purposes; but this is more than a problem of communication. Narratives, fictional and non-fictional, are pervasive across an extraordinary range of social discourses because the basic form of narrative is fundamental to how we think. Narrative theory, a field that originated in the study of elaborate literary fictions, can also explain how the rudiments of narrative form are central to human cognition, and can draw out the benefits and constraints of this circumstance, notably with respect to the understanding of complexity. Narrative cognition has little time for complexity; yet at the same time it is itself a product of complex processes, both neurological and semiotic. Latent in narrative form itself are principles of complexification, and one way to understand the history of narrative culture is as the continual reflexive elaboration of its capacity to represent experience in its systemic complexity. This thought re-connects narrative cognition with the sophisticated forms of narrative that narrative theory more often addresses, and offers some rapprochement (though no reconciliation) between narrative and complexity.