Storytelling agents: Why narrative rather than mental time travel is fundamental

Rosa Hardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


I propose that we can explain the contribution of mental time travel to agency through understanding it as a specific instance of our more general capacity for narrative understanding. Narrative understanding involves the experience of a pre-reflective and embodied sense of self, which co-emerges with our emotional involvement with a sequence of events (Velleman 2003). Narrative understanding of a sequence of event salso requires a ‘recombinable system’, that is, the ability to combine parts to make myriad sequences. Mental time travel shares these two characteristics: it involves an embodied sense of self and the ability to create novel scenarios. What is unique about mental time travel is that it is a story explicitly about our selves, and it involves metarepresentation. Agency is enabled by narrative understanding when we are able to put our current situation into a larger narrative context, whereby some possible actions, but not others,make sense. However, new features of agency are enabled when we understand stories that are explicitly about our selves: we gain the ability to plan and act on plans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Early online date24 Aug 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2017


  • narrative
  • mental time travel
  • agency
  • emotion
  • metarepresentation


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