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20140628 The Storytelling Animal



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The main idea is that humans evolutionally developed into story creating and story telling creatures. Everything is the story: our past, present, future, dreams, and plans. These stories are necessary for humans in order to comprehend reality in their minds, even if only partially, and help to develop strategy and implement actions necessary to survive. The story capability therefore has a great evolutionary meaning and is necessary for humans. This capability served well for last few hundred thousands of years, but leads now to somewhat new direction of escaping away from reality into virtual world.


1. The Witchery of Story
This is about phenomenon of a written story that has power to bring reader into non-existing imaginary environment created by the author. The story exists not only in written book; it is also TV, DVD, Computer game, and any other environment. Moreover, the most popular stories are in our brain – daydreaming, the condition we spend a significant time of our lives in. It also includes an interesting observation of TV sports which is more and more packaged as a story, rather then just a competition. The point is that the story telling has an evolutionary significance because all known people tell stories.

2. The Riddle of Fiction
This chapter starts with children being a natural story telling and story listening entities. After that the narrative goes through the story telling and use of non-verbal expressions with hands, faces, and everything else. Finally the question posted what is a story for? Is it enhancing sexual selection, or just training tool, or an effective method of information packaging? Another opinion is that it is for nothing. The story telling is just a side effect of our brain with no discernable evolutionary benefit. Author contention is that it has important evolutionary benefits, but they are too wide and heterogeneous for simple explanation.

This chapter also includes analysis of stories created by children on simple prompt from the teacher. Most stories include something terrifying indicating that story telling could be a tool to prepare to deal with dangers of the real world.

Finally this chapter includes narrative about Vivian Paley’s book based on her teaching experience. It is about sexual difference with unwilling acceptance of fact that boys are boys and girls are girls and, most important, it is genetic and there is nothing feminism can do with it. Correspondingly the stories they create and live in are different: boys’ stories and girls’ stories.

3. Hell Is Story-Friendly
This is the story of kidnapping vs. non-story of everyday trip to grocery store. In the storytelling the idea of hyperrealism is non-starter, because nobody wants it. The master formula: Story= Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication. Overall this is about universality of the story and use of story as training tool. It also includes discussion about mirror neurons as a biological tool to support use of a story. The experiments such as with flight simulator proved that simulated training works. So the idea of story telling as simulation of reality does make sense.

4. Night Story
This is about dreams as a story, Freud and his psychoanalysis. RAT – Random Activation Theory – sleep is basically batch jobs of the brain and dreams are just a side effect. Research related to atonia – sleep paralysis shows that if atonia switched off in cats they seems to be playing a problem resolution versions closer to hell than to reality. The same applies to humans. Dreams are more often nightmares than not.

5. The Mind Is a Storyteller
This is about brain being a storyteller. Normally the story helps to manage reality, but in mental cases like schizophrenia it distorts reality so much that person become dysfunctional. Interesting info – 87% of great poets had mental disorders.
The chapter also includes description of Gazzaniga’s experiments with individuals with split brain. Then it provides example of story building from nothing from Sherlock Holmes to Kuleshov effect. It also included discussion of confabulators – individuals living inside invented story without realizing it. Example of conspiracy theorists is provided.

6. The Moral of the Story
This chapter starts with discussion of a religion as a story. It is quite possible that human brain needs explanatory story to function in the real world. Another function discussed is function of sacred stories and moral stories to condition individuals for specific behavior. This is deeply connected to children’s play – training for the real life.

7. Ink People Change the World
This chapter is about the writers and their ideas making deep impact on the world through the stories they tell. It starts with intellectual story of Hitler who was greatly impacted by Wagner’s opera Rienzi.

8. Life Stories
This is about our life stories being partially real and partially fiction. There is plenty of scientific research confirming that what we remember is not exactly what happen, moreover the memory is malleable and could be intentionally changed or planted. One very interesting inference comes out of this discussion: “ The Past like Future does not really exists”. All is just a bunch of stories. From here the discussion is going through self-image that is always complimentary and well-known effect when everybody is above average.

9. The Future of Story
The result of all these stories of the book is a statement that “Humans are creatures of Neverland”. That is the place where all our stories happen and where we spent most of our life. The new technology, TV, computers, and games make our story more and more sophisticated every year. It even become possible to exit real world and spend live inside some computer game.


I am pretty much in agreement with ideas of this book. Humans are storytelling animals living in Neverland. They are at the risk of moving completely out of this world into virtual world. Economically it becomes feasible and maybe even probable because of high level of automation and productivity providing enough food, shelter, and entertainment for mass exodus of individuals not capable to handle real world into virtual world.

However I think that quite a few of capable individuals will prefer boring and difficult real world to virtual world of computer-based fantasy. Moreover I even think that after a while the vast majority of people would learn to enjoy reality more then fantasy because of reality, well, actually being real and therefore capable to give enjoyment unobtainable in Neverland.

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