They say that everyone has a story inside them, waiting to be told. As writers, the stories don’t wait patiently; they struggle and fight, driving us to distraction and sleepless nights until we put that pen to paper. But why must we tell stories at all? Where does this urge come from?
We are wired to think in terms of stories. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons, and each one is connected to thousands of others, and each of those quadrillion synapses can be stimulated in many ways and to different degrees. Everything you think, hear, smell, see, and touch, activates more and more connections, culminating in an experience, which is a story in and of itself. Each time you activate a connection, you strengthen it in a processed called long-term potentiation. As we go about our lives, these stories are quite literally shaping our brains.
I think dreams are evidence of this hard-wiring. While we still don’t know why we have dreams, most believe it to be the random impulses of the brain as it performs its routine functions of memory storage, processing, etc. These physiological processes create impulses which flickers through the brain, tracing the most tangible connections. The fact that this results in a dream that takes the shape of a story, however random, illustrates just how integral stories are to our thinking. The same could be said for stream of consciousness writing.
Fascinatingly, we can transfer our own brains’ activity (memories, thoughts, and emotions) to the brains of others. When people read stories, their minds light up as if they had personally lived through the experience. This remarkable ability to learn and to communicate that knowledge to others has ensured the very survival of our species. It has allowed us to sympathize with others, to avoid danger, and to coordinate with each other. From a caveman doodling on cave walls to the slightly-more-coherent caveman writing this post, our survival and success has depended on our ability to communicate. This is not unique to humans. Every organism that exists today has developed the ability to pass along information in one form or another, as small molecules, proteins, DNA, chemical-electrical impulses, sounds, etc.
Given the complexity of the brain and the innumerable ways it can interact with our unique and diverse environments, there are an infinite number of stories to be told. We don’t have one story inside us, we have many. So write! The survival of the human race depends on it.