How storytelling shaped humanity

How storytelling shaped humanity

Kate Douglas reviews On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, cognition and fiction by Brian Boyd:

Boyd argues that art, including fiction, is a unique human adaptation whose chief function is “for improving human cognition, cooperation and creativity”. His excellent accounts of these three areas of human activity show both an impressive mastery of the science and an admirable inclination to question orthodoxy. The “mating mind theory” – art as a product of sexual selection – is subjected to forensic analysis, the notion of “personal narrative” is pooh-poohed, and even Aristotle is not beyond cross-examination.

Art, Boyd says, is a form of play. It is an interesting idea. In recent years, biologists who study play have come to see it as an adaptation allowing intelligent animals to hone mental and physical skills in non-threatening environments. This fits perfectly with Boyd’s assertion that fiction fosters cognition, cooperation and creativity. Where the idea falls short is in its failure to recognise that play is primarily interactive, whereas storytelling is more of a spectator sport.


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