"We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories," declares Jonathan Gottschall in the preface to his recent book The Storytelling Animal.
Just as pilots train on a computerized flight simulator, so do humans learn to deal with life situations by practicing them through the medium of stories:
"Through stories we learn about human culture and psychology, without the potentially staggering costs of having to gain this experience firsthand". It is because stories help us rehearse how to deal with life's potential problems ...
Because the purpose of stories is to teach us about life, the job of our storytelling mind is to make sense of what happens in the world around us.
But if our experiences don't contain obvious meaning and purpose, our mind will fill in what's missing from those experiences so as to create a meaningful story:
"If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can't".
According to Gottschall, the stories our minds create serve one overarching purpose: They make society work better by defining and inculcating a sense of morality. ... Even literary works contribute to teaching morality: "Fiction almost never gives us morally neutral presentations of violence. When the villain kills, his or her violence is condemned. When the hero kills, he or she does so righteously. Fiction drives home the message that violence is acceptable only under clearly defined circumstances—to protect the good and the weak from the bad and the strong". He cites newly emerging research suggesting that reading fiction affects people's brain functioning and thereby helps shape their outlooks and attitudes; he notes that reading nonfiction does not produce the same results."
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