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Author Topic: Why Do People Have To Tell Stories?  (Read 13428 times)
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Last Login:March 26, 2009, 10:45:58 pm
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Religion: Pagan (Eclectic)
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« Reply #28: March 08, 2009, 01:33:24 am »

I’m not an anthropologist, and I haven’t read widely on the subject…but there seems to be a fundamental human need to have stories. This is in every culture worldwide, ranging from myths (deeply meaningful religious stories about Life, the Universe, and Everything) to soap operas (somewhat less meaningful stories about life, sex, and everything) to comic strips (ditto).


If you think about it, we could exist perfectly well without stories; we could still eat, sleep, have sex, even if we never heard or told another story. Sure, stories serve various social functions—one function of myth, for example, is to give social cohesion to a group, I believe—but then a wolf pack reinforces its social cohesion by howling at night, no stories required. So why do humans do it with story? Why do we do so many things—entertainment, education, and on and on—through story?

We even tend to edit our experiences selectively—on an individual level, our memories, and collectively, our history—so that they make a tidy story.

Why not accept the chaotic mess as it is, rather than try to impose some narrative order?

If we were ever to meet intelligent aliens, do you think they’d also tell stories? For the same reasons we do?


Attempting to answer my own question: I think it might have to do with the human ability to think abstractly. One of the special features that sets our species apart from the others here on Earth is our ability to make a particular sound or draw a bunch of lines and attach specific meaning to it; this gives rise to language, to math, to symbolism…

Maybe this same feature of our brains gives rise to the need for story as well. If you think of story as human experiences abstracted, it makes sense that our abstraction-specializing brains would crave it.

Or am I wandering completely into the speculative ether here?

Funny, I was just thinking about something similar today, and I thought up an explanation which might pertain to your question as well.

I believe that there are only a few elements of humanity which separate us from primitive animals.  These few qualities are abilities which have, I think, brought us to the place in which we find ourselves now.  Two of the most important traits we've developed are the ability to remember, and the ability to create(or, in this case, embellish).

Memory.  Long- and short- term memory are not always necessary for survival purposes.  Look at the jellyfish... no brain...  Bad example, I know, just simple illustration.  Anyway, it leads to the creativity thing, so bear with me.  Without the ability to remember and memorize things, we would have no basis upon which to embellish upon the natural formations, shelters, etc., around us, and we wouldn't have been able to learn from Nature how to adapt and be creative, because learning requires memory.  Then we moved on from figuring out how to optimize the protective abilities of our family's cave to recalling the day's events and drawing them on the wall in berry mush pigment.  Look mom, cave art... the first examples we have of recorded storytelling.

When we realized we could create things, we got "smart". (I use the term loosely, of course, because look at what we're doing to ourselves, our planet, etc., with our technological "advances" and whatnot.)   Anyway, since we have the ability to create, we use our creativity as a tool for personal gain. 
Whatever we choose to use it for, it brings us a benefit of sorts.  Keeping ourselves busy, earning money or fame(as in books or movies), to create social order(...Holy F---in' Bible, anyone? o.O), etc.  Storytelling is just another thing we as humans do that differentiates us from the animals.  Yet as simple an act as it is to tell a story, religious texts are a perfect example of the power of legend, lore, myth, etc.  Just stories, nothing more, with "moral fiber" as the only conceivable benefit, controlling the actions and lives of billions of people around the world.  One hex per subsequent holy-roller upon those greedy, power hungry authors. 

Kinda like how certain popular book companies capitalize on iggy noobs and fluff bunnies with their fairy-tale(or fairy-fart)-Wicca & completely inaccurate "New Age" books... 


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