Writer Stetzer to talk marriage of rational and irrational

Jay Stetzer decided to take Week Four’s theme of “Irrationality” to heart when planning his Brown Bag lecture. He said irrationality can mean a lot of things, such as “how consumers buy things, how politicians make decisions, how we really don’t use the rational in our decision-making.”

But Stetzer wanted to explore a different avenue.

“We love the irrational, and we try to make sense out of the irrational,” he said.

Stetzer is the prose writer-in-residence for Week Four at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. He wants to discuss how people suspend rationality, especially when they’re experiencing a story, with his Brown Bag lecture, “How a Story Finds the Rational in the Irrational.” Stetzer’s Brown Bag takes place at 12:15 p.m. today on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Stetzer, a professional storyteller, said he thinks of the “irrational” as the intuitive, something he wants to explore with his talk.

“If you define the irrational as the intuitive, you may see it a bit differently,” Stetzer said. “And I’m fascinated by this. The fact that we have the cognitive part of our brain, which thinks and sees and interprets — we’re awake and aware of it all the time. It’s a very small part of the brain’s activity.”

Stetzer said it’s the other part of the brain — the irrational, intuitive part — that interests him most.

“It’s working all the time,” Stetzer said. “It’s like a giant attic of stimuli and pictures and smells and senses and experiences. And it’s churning all the time.”

Stetzer said story is where the relationship between those two parts of the brain can collide in a satisfying way.

“In story, you’re playing with both the cognitive and the intuitive,” Stetzer said. “The rational and the irrational — that’s what I like to call it. Story blends the two: the rational and the irrational into a marriage of thought and feeling, of insight and imagination, of understanding and sensing.”

Popular culture has a fascination with irrational, but arresting, stories — such as Harry Potter, which Stetzer said defies everything we know about the universe. But that’s why people love it, he said.

“Because we’re fundamentally irrational creatures, we’re very willing to suspend our notion of disbelief to jump into a story,” Stetzer said. “That’s where story has its heyday — in the realm of the irrational.”

Stetzer said the intuitive and cognitive also collide when people see a movie and want to discuss it afterward. He said people are moved by what they see and experience, but when trying to analyze it, it can “destroy the sense” they had when they left the movie.

“In many ways, it’s better to just keep your mouth shut and let it bang around, see what it triggers, see what it tickles,” Stetzer said. “That’s not rational. But it is profoundly useful for us in the way that we grow as human spirits.”

Stetzer said his audience can expect plenty of stories from him over the course of his lecture.

“You can’t talk about stories without telling stories and giving people an experience of what you’re trying to describe in rational terms,” Stetzer said.

He also hopes to leave his audience with the sense that a story stretches beyond the moment that it’s told.

“They can carry it with them,” Stetzer said. “There are stories everywhere that live inside of them and outside of them.”