the Atlantic by Jennifer Vanderbes that argues for storytelling and imagination as important to human survival, in the evolutionary past and for the future. Her citing of the function of storytelling in Paleolithic times, when humans evolved to be essentially the humans there are today, is rudimentary (when compared for example to Paul Shepard's work in the later decades of the 20th century) but entertaining and relevant.
Her argument is that imagination (or in her words "counter-factual" stories--what if? imagining about yesterday's hunt) enhanced survival because the imaginer (and those he told) were more prepared for new opportunities and nasty surprises they'd thought of, and perhaps even figured out how to respond.
Good stories that urge listeners to imagine what it felt like to be another person or animal enhanced empathy. "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."
A good storyteller also enhanced his or her genetic survival because a good story is sexy. So storytelling becomes culturally as well as maybe genetically important.
Imagining the consequences of present actions, anticipating the effects of future actions, dreaming up the future and plans to make it happen, are all part of the dreaming up we do and need to do daily in order to apply our best human capabilities to saving the world and making a better future. Of course, this all must be tested by reality--by probabilities, facts and experiments. Imagination is not the same as delusion governed by projection and prejudice.
The author suggests that our fascination with stories might be what we need to survive the oncoming tests of our survival-- as long as we choose the right stories.
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s American Time Use Survey, the average American spends almost 20% of his or her waking life watching television. Add to that movies, gaming, books and magazines (reading alone consumed less than 3% of the waking hours of those surveyed), and you can postulate that almost a quarter of our waking lives are spent in imagined worlds.
Evolutionarily, that number is off the charts. Thanks to Gutenberg and the inventions of film and television, we immerse ourselves in more narratives than our ancestors could have imagined, which means we’re cutting back, along the way, on real-life experience. This means our 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.
Today we can pick up the books of the most dazzling, intelligent storytellers in the world. From all time. We can tune into the primetime masterpieces of the Golden Age of television. And if we can soak up their wisdom, and make ourselves a little bit smarter, we might just all make it to the next Ice Age.”
Library Days: The Hardy Boys - This is one of a series of posts on my childhood reading and origins of my relationship with books, prompted by Larry McMurtry's reflections in his book, W...
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