Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Evolution of the Story Mind

I think the evolutionary psychology view of art is one of those ideas that seems glaringly obvious once it is pointed out to you:

To take the next step to fiction would seem to give early humans a simulation machine, useful for war-gaming their options in survival choices. But Dutton refuses this adaptive explanation for fiction, advanced by Stephen Pinker and others, pointing out that our fictional library extends into realms far beyond anything humans would encounter. It is instead, he argues, an enhancement and extension of counterfactual reasoning - the ability to step beyond mere reproduction of facts in the imagination to hypothetical states of affairs.

Fiction, it has been argued, also serves as an efficient archive of cultural knowledge; Eric Havelock famously argued that for nonliterate peoples, epics like the "Iliad" constitute a kind of oral encyclopedia. Perhaps more than its tactical or archival capacities, however, fiction provides a unique platform for social and psychological reasoning. "The inner psychological experience of one's fellows, the shared emotional and intellectual world of the tribe," Dutton writes, is the final field upon which fiction plays - and perhaps its ultimate evolutionary raison d'etre as well.

You don't even have to dive very deeply into the evolutionary advantages of what in Dramatica they call the "story mind" to see that human beings are keen observers of other human beings and that the stories we tell are really arguments and descriptions of how we think, understand, behave, and solve problems. Because we are complex beings, story telling is a complex activity, not merely instrumental in telling us what something is or what we should do in certain situations, but exploring emotional terrain, the tragedy of death, the comedy of life, the possible, the improbable, and the fantastic.

And just like the human mind, it is even large enough and flexible enough to reflect upon its own creation, methods, and ends. It can tell a story about itself.