Synopses & Reviews
Our breath catches and we jump in fear at the sight of a snake. We pause and marvel at the sublime beauty of a sunrise. These reactions are no accident; in fact, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary pastand#151;we fear snakes because of the danger of venom or constriction, and we welcome the assurances of the sunrise as the predatory dangers of the dark night disappear. Many of our aesthetic preferencesand#151;from the kinds of gardens we build to the foods we enjoy and the entertainment we seekand#151;are the lingering result of natural selection.
In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups.and#160; During this time our likes and dislikes became wired in our brains, as the appropriate responses to the environment meant the difference between survival or death. His rich analysis explains why we mimic the tropical savannas of our ancestors in our parks and gardens, why we are simultaneously attracted to danger and approach it cautiously, and how paying close attention to natureand#8217;s sounds has resulted in us being an unusually musical species.and#160; We also learn why we have developed discriminating palates for wine, and why we have strong reactions to some odors, and why we enjoy classifying almost everything.
By applying biological perspectives ranging from Darwin to current neuroscience to analyses of our aesthetic preferences for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, and animals, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare transforms how we view our experience of the natural world and how we relate to each other.
"This at times cloying and circular extended essay parts sociology, anthropology, psychology, and literary criticism seeks to answer one of those sticky questions about human nature: why do we have a fundamental need for story? For Gottschall, who teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College, story serves an evolutionary purpose; it's hard-wired into our brains. Story creation, like dreaming, helps us judge wrongdoing. It is also how we 'practice the human skills of social life' even if we don't consciously remember the story and its lessons. Gottschall interprets 'story' broadly: even the vagaries of memory are a form of fictionalization: false memories show how one's past, like one's future, is a realm of fantasy for which we are hard-wired. But Gottschall's evolutionary argument is circular: we are hard-wired for fiction because it is good for us; and we are drawn to fiction because our brains are wired for it. Yet if the argument and approach are scattershot, the writing can be engaging. 74 photos." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A provocative young scholar gives us the first book on the new science of storytelling: the latest thinking on why we tell stories, what stories reveal about human nature, what makes a story transporting, which plots and themes are universal, and what it means to have a storytelling brain—what are the implications for how we process information and think about the world?
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe: we spin fantasies, we devour novels, films, and plays, and even our sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. Its easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?
In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories are a way of rehearsing lifes complex social problems.Our penchant for story has evolved, like other behaviors, to enhance our survival, and, crucially, that of our social group. (In fact, studies show that people who read fiction are more empathetic.) Gottschall explores the deep pattern in childrens make-believe, and what that reveals about storys prehistoric origins. He shows how a story was partly responsible for Hitlers rise, how schizophrenia is an example of the story mind run amok, and how successful fiction is inherently moral. We are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. Itand#8217;s easy to say that humans are and#8220;wiredand#8221; for story, but why
In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate lifeand#8217;s complex social problemsand#8212;just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That people who read more fiction are more empathetic?
Of course, our story instinct has a darker side. It makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories, advertisements, and narratives about ourselves that are more and#8220;truthyand#8221; than true. National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitlerand#8217;s ambitions were partly fueled by a story.
But as Gottschall shows in this remarkable book, stories can also change the world for the better. Most successful stories are moraland#8212;they teach us how to live, whether explicitly or implicitly, and bind us together around common values. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
A NYTimes.com Editor's Choice A Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Finalist
“A jaunty, insightful new book . . . [that] draws from disparate corners of history and science to celebrate our compulsion to storify everything around us.”
—New York Times
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. Now Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate lifes complex social problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival. Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal and explains how stories can change the world for the better. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
“This is a quite wonderful book. It grips the reader with both stories and stories about the telling of stories, then pulls it all together to explain why storytelling is a fundamental human instinct.”
—Edward O. Wilson
“Charms with anecdotes and examples . . . we have not left nor should we ever leave Neverland.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
In this remarkably ambitious and creative work, evolutionary biologist Gordon Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment. The work starts with chapters dedicated to human emotions and evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. It then looks at how environmental information is gained by humans, and processedand#151;what are the evolutionary mechanisms behind that response to a great white, or a baby deer? Then the fun truly begins. Mr. Orians in chapter 3 looks at landscapes, how we perceive the environs in which we live at larger scales. Chapter 4 explores our emotional responses to danger, and it is followed by a chapter on human-built natureand#151;gardens, parks. The closing chapters consider biodiversity and classification, and the role of emotions in our responses to the environment. By looking at human aesthetic preferences (for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, animals, etc.) through a biological lens (which ranges from Darwin to current neuroscience), our experience of the natural world is wholly illuminated.
About the Author
Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College and is one of the leading figures in the movement toward a more scientific humanities. The author or editor of five scholarly books, Gottschalls work has been prominently featured in the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Steven Pinker has called him "a brilliant young scholar" whose writing is "unfailingly clear, witty, and exciting."
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Whistling for HoneyChapter 2.Ghosts of the African SavannaChapter 3. The High Cost of LearningChapter 4. Reading the LandscapeChapter 5. The Snake in the Grass ( . . . and Other Hazards)Chapter 6. Settling Down and Settling InChapter 7. A Ransom in PepperChapter 8.The Musical ApeChapter 9. The First SniffChapter 10. Ordering NatureChapter 11. The Honeyguide and the Snake: Embracing Our Ecological MindsAcknowledgmentsNotesIllustration CreditsIndex