EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY AND NARRATIVE. If an ability to understand the thoughts of an imaginary character is present in a five year old, did that ability in humans arise by accident or because it provides an evolutionary advantage? In the article that I linked to in today’s other post (summary only), Jeremy Hsu discusses a very interesting article by Steven Pinker that addresses the question of whether there is an evolutionary advantage in being able to imagine other minds and to create stories. Pinker, as a scientist, raises objections: “One might have expected natural selection to have weeded out any inclination to engage in imaginary worlds rather than the real one.” I kept expecting Pinker to make an argument similar to that of David Foster Wallace– that it is an evolutionary advantage to be able to understand another human’s point of view– but I don’t think he does. (As opposed to Wallace, Pinker also questions the usefulness of studying literature rather than “patently useful subjects like biology or statistics.”) Instead, Pinker makes a case for one kind of evolutionary advantage from fiction: that it provides thought experiments which humans can use for “case-based reasoning.”

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  1. elmer says:

    How does Pinker distinguish the capacity to imagine something that hasn’t happened from the capacity to engage in case-based reasoning about possible consequences of actions not yet taken? Elmer

  2. Ewan says:

    Great Blog. I’m really enjoying checking in. Your observations on philosophy and science are fascinating. I’m writing a blog on philosophy and literature, you may like to visit as we have similar interests.



  3. Pingback: TED HUGHES AND SEAMUS HEANEY (COMMENT). | Pater Familias

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