How Great Fiction May Have Helped Human Evolution

by Rachel Baker on September 6, 2013

Here’s an interesting article making a case for great fiction being an incredibly important part of our evolutionary history.

Among 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.)

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/09/the-evolutionary-case-for-great-fiction/279311/

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