Ohio State professor explains science of storytelling

Ohio State University professor Luis Aldama is seen during his presentation "The Science of Storytelling" on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. (Rebecca Newman/The Daily Campus)

Professor Fredrick Luis Aldama, a distinguished professor of the arts and humanities at Ohio State University, spoke on the subject of storytelling in his presentation, “The Science of Storytelling,” on Monday.

Aldama began the presentation by bringing up his daughter and how she inspired some of his work.

“I had a kid, and she taught me more than the theories I had,” Aldama said.

Stories, Aldama said, enhance a child’s “growth of casual, counterfactual, and Bayesian probability mechanism,” as well as the “growth of the shape-giving will and storytelling devices of the child.”

“Storytelling is the basis of science,” said Aldama. “There really isn’t anybody looking at how children give shape to these stories.”

Aldama remarked that storytelling allows children to “grow capacities to formulate relations of causality,” and “create new social and physical maps with new shapes and possibilities.”

“We each grow and apply our biology in different ways, in different times and spaces in life,” Aldama said.

Emphasizing visual and literal language in storytelling, Aldama often used the term “shape-giving devices.” Specifically, he underlined how “shape-giving devices are applied to objects to create new experiences,” and by using them, we end up with the “distillation and recreation of reality.”

One example Aldama used came from Mexican cinema. In the year 2000, there was “a possibility of a Mexican director giving voices to the lost generations,” Aldama said.

A film that did just that, “Sin Nombre,” offered new perceptions, thoughts and feelings about the dangerous forced-migration of Central American and Mexican peoples, according to Aldama. Playing a clip from the film, Aldama illustrated the cinematic language used to depict the reality of “the struggle of youth all over the planet to grow a healthy cognitive and emotion system within a social tissue.”

Aldama then played a clip of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” a movie that stars Quentin Tarintino and R. Rodriguez, in which Tarintino’s character is killed. Aldama argued that this was the point in the narrative when the film became more like a Rodriguez film - whereas it was more of a Tarintino-style film before that segment.

While analyzing the scene, Aldama also spoke on Rodriguez’s contributions to Latin-American cinema.

“Rodriguez creates a storytelling relation of the grotesque,” Aldama said, after playing a clip from “Machete.”

Aldama then showed a clip from James Cameron’s “Avatar,” in which the protagonist completes a sacred Na’vi rite involving the taming of a red dragon-like creature, and is then worshipped by the aforementioned Na’vi - aliens that are inspired by a mix of cultures seen in a variety of indigenous peoples. Aldama used the clip he presented as an example of how the “white savior myth…still persists,” before illustrating another example of this trope, this time with the film “Dances with Wolves.”

The patronizing depictions of Latinos and Latinas within media such as “Devious Maids” and “Jane the Virgin” was also a subject of discussion. Aldama remarked that some of the imagery – such as a Mariachi band within one character’s household – is an indicator of the superficial amounts of research and understanding of Latin-American culture.

Concluding his presentation, Aldama argued that “storytelling is free of biological constraints” on how we “perceive and process information coming at us,” and ultimately can “open our perception, cognition and emotion to something genuinely new.”