September 6, 2013

WE ARE ALL INTELLIGENT DESIGNISTS NOW:

The Evolutionary Case for Great Fiction : Might reading literature help with species survival? (JENNIFER VANDERBES, SEP 5 2013, Atlantic)

[A]mong the many things that set humans apart from other animals is our capacity for counterfactual thinking. At its most basic level, this means we can hypothesize what might happen if we run out of milk; in its most elaborate form--we get War and Peace. Stories, then, are complex counterfactual explorations of possible outcomes: What would happen if I killed my landlady? What would happen if I had an affair with Count Vronsky? How do I avoid a water buffalo? According to Denis Dutton, these "low-cost, low-risk" surrogate experiences build up our knowledge stores and help us adapt to new situations. ("Mirror neuron" research indicates that our brains process lived and read experiences almost identically.)  A good "cautionary tale," for example, might help us avert disaster. Stories can also provide useful historical, scientific, cultural and geographical information. Bruce Chatwin's Songlines illustrates this on two tiers: In armchair-travel fashion, the book acquaints readers with the Australian Outback, while simultaneously describing how Aboriginals sang stories walking at a specific pace so that geographical markers within the story would guide their journey.

In addition to travelogues, stories also offer nuanced thought maps. An imaginative foray into another person's mind can foster both empathy and self-awareness. This heightened emotional intelligence might, in turn, prove useful when forming friendships, sniffing out duplicity, or partaking in the elaborate psychological dance of courtship ... which brings us back to the second Darwinian evolutionary imperative: Getting laid.

In terms of sexual advantages, a tale well told can undoubtedly up the storyteller's charm factor.  Tales aren't bland renderings of narrative events; they are, at their best, colorful, brilliant, and poetically polished.   They get gussied up.  And when storytellers use ornament and plumage to draw attention to their tales they inevitably draw eyes themselves.  (Think: author photos, author profiles, literary performances, awards - or, 45,000 years ago, the rapt gaze of the Pleistocene clan.) Literary peacockery benefits the audience as well. When we read books, we enhance our vocabulary. We glean information about particle physics or virtual reality or Australian Aborigines that make us better conversationalists. We hone our metaphors, refine our wit.  From the elaborate plumage of the story the reader, too, makes off with a few feathers.   [...]

[O]ur choice of which stories to consume is more crucial than ever. They need to be as useful as lived experience, or more so, or we're putting ourselves at a disadvantage.

And, really, what's left of the theory but choices?

Posted by at September 6, 2013 5:25 AM
  

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