How Stories Configure Human Nature
Any story we tell of our species, any science of human nature, that ignores how important stories are in shaping what and how we think and feel is false. We evolved to be ultra-social (and self-deficient), so we care deeply about character and plot.
1. It is in our nature to need stories. We arrive “biologically prepared” for them. They were evolutionarily crucial. We feel and think in story-logic (story-causality configures our reaction-biology).
2. Like our language instinct, a story drive—inborn hunger to hear and make stories—emerges untutored (=“biologically prepared”).
3. “Every culture bathes its children in stories" (to explain how the world works, to educate their emotions).
5. Stories free us from the limits of direct experience, delivering feelings we don’t have to “pay for” (~like simulated people-physics experiments).
7. Story patterns transmit, often tacitly, social rules and norms (e.g., what constitutes violation, or what reactions are expected/approved).
8. The “human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.” We can use logic inside stories better—consider Wason’s Test, ~10% solve it as a logic puzzle, but 70-90% do when it’s presented as a story, involving social-rule cheating.
9. Social-rule monitoring was evolutionarily crucial (“other people are the most important part of our environment”).
10. Social acceptance shaped ancestral survival. Violating social rules could mean exile or exclusion from group benefits (protection, big-game, etc).
11. Darwin saw how biologically active the stories in our social environments are—“Many a Hindoo…has been stirred to the bottom of his soul by [consuming] unclean food.” But if eaten unknowingly, it wouldn’t cause that reaction.
13. Stories configure the emotional/physiological triggers and reactions expected in our culture (patterns that are like an “emotional grammar”).
14. Any story we tell of our species, any science of human nature, that ignores how important stories are in shaping what and how we think and feel is false.
15. Nature shaped us to be ultra-social (and self-deficient). Hence to care deeply about character and plot.
Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.
- Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
- The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
- European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
Research has shown that men today have less testosterone than they used to. What's happening?
- Several studies have confirmed that testosterone counts in men are lower than what they used to be just a few decades ago.
- While most men still have perfectly healthy testosterone levels, its reduction puts men at risk for many negative health outcomes.
- The cause of this drop in testosterone isn't entirely clear, but evidence suggests that it is a multifaceted result of modern, industrialized life.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.