There is a Star Trek Next Generation episode where Captain Picard is captured by the Borg: an alien group structured like a bee hive with a queen bee and a lot of worker bees. They adopt him into their network of non-specific members. At one point we see the Captain dressed and expressionless like the other Borg, but with a single tear drop on his cheek.
I have watched a friend struggle as a disease takes over her brain, shuffling her neural wiring so that she can’t find words, memories or how to navigate herself in space. Somewhere inside she struggles with this sense of loss. Meanwhile, externally, we see fewer signs of the person she used to be. Watching her disappear is like watching the Borg take over Captain Picard.
A couple of months ago, I sat with my friend in a café over lunch. She leaned forward and talked to me in a hushed voice about how her husband was hurrying her towards death. (I can’t believe I just typed that.)
It made no sense. I listened to the words strung through grammatical logic to sound intelligent. They didn’t actually connect with any reality as I understood it. Her stories were not communications from a healthy cognitive mind inferring and interpreting human experience. Yet, to her, the stories were absolutely real. She, like the rest of us, creates stories to explain and interpret her life experience and environment. But, her life no longer follows the rules of logic, so doesn’t it seem to follow that her stories wouldn’t either?
I listen harder to what was behind the story. What was she feeling? What was she seeking to describe? I realized that she felt death getting nearer. She was fearful of something related to her husband. Fearful from him or fearful for him? Maybe some of both?
The more I listened, the more I realized that she was composing a movie worthy plot, to make meaning of what she could feel and sense through her damaged neural networks. The story details may not have mirrored any version of reality that I could see, but the story served to communicate her feelings and her understanding of her own world.
Only two months later, my friend has declined quickly and dramatically. It seems she really knew some truth that I couldn’t see.
I now understand how and why we tell stories about aliens taking over our loved ones, our cities, our planet. Things out of our control, that might as well have come from outer space, hijack and our lives and redirect them in ways we could not ever have imagine.
What might the stories we tell reveal to us about our best attempts to describe human life and experience?
How much do our own misperceptions or our own cognitive limitations interpreting our world play into the stories we tell?