Evolution and the pursuit of fiction

Evolutionary psychology explains the root of our pursuit of artistic expression, and the intense desire to consume it, according to Denis Dutton:

“Human beings expend staggering amounts of time and resources on creating and experiencing art and entertainment — music, dancing, and static visual arts. Of all of the arts, however, it is the category of fictional story-telling that across the globe today is the most intense focus of what amounts to a virtual human addiction. A recent government study in Britain showed that if you add together annual attendances in plays and cinema with hours watching television drama, the average Briton spends roughly 6% of all waking life watching dramatic performances. And that figure does not even include books and magazines: further vast numbers of hours spent reading short stories, bodice-rippers, mysteries, and thrillers, as well as so-called serious fictions, old and new. The origins of this obsession with comic and dramatic fictions are lost in remote prehistory, as lost as the origins of language itself. But like language, we know the obsession with fiction is universal: stories told, read, and dramatically or poetically performed are independently invented in all known cultures, literate or not, having advanced technologies or not. Wherever printing arrives, it is used to reproduce fictions. […]

The universal fascination with fictions is a curious thing. If human beings were attracted only to true narratives, factual reports that describe the real world, the attraction could be attributed to utility. We might imagine that just as early homo sapiens needed to hew sharp adzes and know the ways of game animals, so they needed to employ language accurately to describe themselves and their environment and to communicate truths to each other. Were that the case, there would be no “problem of fiction,” because there would be no fiction: the only alternatives to desirable truth would be unintentional mistakes or intentional lies. Such Pleistocene Gradgrinds would be about as eager to waste linguistic effort creating fables and fictions as they would be to waste their manual skills laboring to produce dull adzes. We can speculate even that the enjoyment of fictions might have put them at an adaptive disadvantage against more Gradgrindish neighboring tribes: homo sapiens would in such a circumstance have evolved to react to untrue, made-up stories much as it reacts to the smell of rotting meat. Now as it happens, this speculation does not accord with facts: the human reaction to fictions, at least when they are properly understood to be fictions, is not aversion, but runs anywhere from boredom to amusement to intense pleasure.”

Good news for readers and writers, regardless of what happens to the publishing industry: humans will always pursue the creative expressions, as well as be driven to it!

Sources:
http://www.denisdutton.com/carroll_review.htm
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/06/02/f-vp-handler.html

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