Narrative Resonance

Tell me, my friend, why do you trust that Map?

Why do we believe in the narratives that we believe in? Or, perhaps in more “Apex” fashion, why do you believe in one Map of the World over another?

Of course, to answer such a question, we first need to understand why there are so many Maps out there. How is it that there appears to be an unlimited number of explanations for various phenomena?

Upon understanding that question, we then have to investigate why any given individual chooses Map A over Map B (or C or D…).

Only then can we begin to make sense of some of the various ways we defend our Maps to stave off existential crisis.

Our Maps are Undetermined

As I explained in my piece discussing overdetermination and adaptive stories,

History, as far as we can understand, appears to resemble some kind of overdetermined web. For any event, there are a variety of causes, and even absent a particular impetus, the event may still have happened. What this means, of course, is that it becomes extremely easy to construct narratives, as the overdetermination presents a wide variety of "causes" to pick from and declare to be THE cause, depending on whatever your personal feelings are.

Now, this was specifically talking about history and narratives regarding history. It seems somewhat odd to say The World is overdetermined. Instead, I will say that our knowledge of the world is insufficient to grasp at the Truth. In other words, our Maps are underdetermined.

What this means is simple: there are various explanations of the World that “work.” They begin from assumptions that, although many may disagree with them, are logically coherent. And then they provide an explanation for the various phenomena in the World. You and I are familiar with the battle lines. Atheism vs Theism. Marxism vs Elitism. Why is America the richest country in the world? Why are people poor? Endless debates, and only partially can they be “resolved” by data. Often the data supports a variety of interpretations.

So we understand why there are so many Maps, so many possible explanations…but why do we end up with these Maps instead of those Maps?

Map A vs Map B: Which one resonates with me?

For reasons I just explained, Reason/Logic cannot explain why I pick Map A over Map B. I can draw up a variety of mutually contradictory explanations for the World that all logically follow from assumptions. Really, we are asking why people choose certain assumptions over alternative ones. The answer comes in two parts: Socialization and Independence.

Socialization Process: Handing you a Map

Put very simply,

socialization is a process by which individuals become accustomed to, and internalize, the norms, values, and ideologies of the society they live in.

There are individuals, institutions, and groups that we interface with, and through which we learn the rules of society.

Socialization hands you a packet of ‘Goods’ that the society recognizes and expects you to internalize as your own ‘Goods’. Failure to do so can lead to exclusion, punishment, etc.

We do not create ourselves out of an act of pure Will, nor are we pure products of our environment. We all have inborn tendencies, yes, but the “starting point” we each begin at is the set of background values of our society. It is only over time, that we depart on our journeys from our starting points.


Most people accomplish some degree of independence as they grow older (the oversocialized accomplish a far smaller degree of it). So when we try to understand why an adult has chosen Map A over Map B, we can’t appeal purely to their environmental shaping or to Reason/Logic.

At its core, an individual will pick and edit and reform their Map due to one of two factors:

  1. Habit/Pragmatism

  2. Sentiment/Aesthetics


A significant part of our existence is being faced with problems that we are expected to solve. Questions that we are expected to acquire an answer to. Our Maps guide our action, and it is reasonable to believe that if Map A does a “better” job of guiding my action than Map B, I should run with Map A.

But this doesn’t explain where my goals come from in the first place. Remember, our Map of the World is intertwined, inseparably, with our Map of Moral Space. Moral Space is a dimension of the World. Our explanations of “facts” are embedded in broader conceptual frameworks that are, in no small part, Moral":

At the core of our experience of the world, is a question that we must necessarily grapple with: what makes life worth living? In his work Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor describes this experience:

“To know who I am is to know where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose.”

As Taylor goes on to note, without this horizon/frame, we lose our identity. This is an identity crisis. A “radical uncertainty of where [I] stand” implies an uncertainty of who I am.

Our values, the Goods (like honesty, fairness, equality, freedom, etc.) that we consider are valuable/good/worth pursuing, sit at the core of our very being, of how we identify ourselves and of how we engage with the outside world. They are connected in a whole web of evaluations which define me as a person.

And so, the pragmatic explanation reaches a problem: it can only partially explain why I choose one map over another.

Resonance and Sentiment

At the core of our Maps, the core of what makes any particular narrative resonate with us, is sentiment. We adopt a narrative because, at its core, it feels right.

And what drives our sentimental attachment to things? I cannot possibly provide an exhaustive list here, but I’ll try to lay out a few key areas:

  1. Our inborn tendencies

  2. The contingent life experiences we each encounter

  3. Our Place in Society (our “Objective Social Relations,” if you’d like)

  4. Our Objective Interests

  5. Our Socialization (see above)

We each are naturally drawn to some explanations over others. They feel right. Part of this comes from inborn tendencies/traits. Some of us are naturally disgusted at things others are not, some of us are more curious than others, some of us are kinder or more generous than others. All of these tendencies we start off with, however small they may be, naturally predispose us to certain ways of knowing. They set us down the pathways that lead us to considering other ways of knowing “unthinkable.”

These natural tendencies then have a healthy interaction with our environment. The particular life experiences we each encounter color our understanding of the world. If I get my heart broken in high school, perhaps I have trust issues regarding new lovers. You could fill a city of libraries with the evidence showing how childhood environment impacts peoples personalities and lives as they grow older. (We knew about such things long before any kind of experimentation - the themes play out in literature eons old)

Of course, our particular experiences color how each of us places different weight upon our “objective” interests and relations in society. “Child” or “Parent,” “Teacher” or “Student,” “Worker” or “Boss,” “Man” or “Woman,” “Rich” or “Poor.” All of these positions in society are, for lack of a better term, abstracted: you have a general set of interests that you share in common with others given your mutual positions in society.

But the importance of mentioning your tendencies + particular life experiences is to note that different people will put different weights on these interests. It may be in my self-interest to cheat my workers out of their wages, or to take advantage of my teacher’s trust and copy an essay online, but I may have different values that I put a greater weight on (perhaps honor and integrity, respectively). As I have mentioned before, goods are not all equally weighted on our Maps of the World/Moral Space. Our self-interest is one such good, but it may not be the North Star of anyone’s map: the general refusal to even consider instrumental calculation on certain topics (think “how much would you sell your child to me for?”) points to other values that are more important than any kind of self-interest calculation.

The same points hold true for relations, but here we see an interesting point. I will repeat the Charles Taylor quote from above:

“To know who I am is to know where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose.”

While we each exist in a wide variety of objective relationships, spanning from very general to quite particular, our sentiments about these relationships and our decision to identify with (or not to identify with) particular relations is tied up in our value positions. Being a “class reductionist” or “identitarian” says far more about the individual identifying with said label than it says about the world.

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