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Meta-Narratives and Multiplicity

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I’ve been meaning to read more recently, so I picked up ‘The Ego Trick’ by Julian Baggini at my local charity shop and I’m so glad I did. The book systematically outlines, hypothesizes and deconstructs what the human ‘self’ is, using arguments from Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Neuroscience. Something this book does well is explain complicated ideas about our inner workings as humans in a concise and digestible way. I think it’s safe to say the book has made me look at some things in life with a different filter.

This is how we as humans make sense of a very disordered and fragmented world - developing a unifying story to create some sort of order from the chaos.

Two subjects in the book really stood out for me. The first being something called ‘meta-narratives’ which explains how we tend to go through life forming a story or narrative about ourselves, reinforcing or rejecting aspects in our meta-narrative everyday depending on whether it lines up with the narrative we want to develop. This is how we as humans make sense of a very disordered and fragmented world – developing a unifying story to create some sort of order from the chaos. This is important within life and the world of Advertising and Media. If we weren’t reinforcing good habits like being organised and planned to our approach to work, we would never get any work out of the door!

It made me think though, what if we forgot about our ‘meta-narrative’ sometimes? An example where this had a huge impact on Art History was the ‘Post-Modernism’ era. Artists used established styles and experimented mixing styles like Corinthians and Romanesque with a touch of gothic for example. This caused an uproar at first by the established singular styles but soon these creations began to leave the world with unique and visually inspiring art. This does show that rejecting a ‘meta-narrative’ can be a very powerful technique at times.

The second subject is ‘multiplicity’ where Baggani uses an interesting example of memory barriers within people who have split personalities. An example of this was Robert Oxnam, who had 11 personalities inside him and a good way to think about this is to liken it to computers. If you had 11 user accounts on your computer, you can log on and off to access each account, but you cannot use two accounts at the same time. Similarly, Oxnam had different ‘users’ inside him but the problem was each user had very distinct personalities and sets of skills (such as shy and mathematical or funny and a wordsmith) and he couldn’t access the skills at the same time, hence he was either very capable or completely incapable when he had to tackle certain tasks.

This is relevant to all of us.  People who don’t have split personalities still do have memory barriers, even if not as defined as in Oxnam’s case, which suggests at times we do log on as ‘X’ and miss out on what some of ‘Y’ may offer. Just being aware of this has been interesting and made me ponder when I could have broken down these memory barriers and been better at something.

When it comes down to it this book has been useful simply because of the extra tools it has given me to try and understand the complex world we live in a little bit better!

Arjun Yadav – Campaign Executive

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