Literary Darwinism

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 7 2012 @ 3:38pm

R. Salvador Reyes theorizes as to why we love to hear and tell stories:

There is a deep part of our brain that is a pattern junkie; it feeds on them, needs them, wants to find them everywhere. And it doesn’t do this without reward. … When you think about the kinds of patterns that are useful for prediction—patterns that are defined by a certain string of actions and reactions that occur within a specific set of conditions—it is easy to see that these types of patterns are, in essence, stories. Most predictive patterns are ultimately a type of narrative. Think again about how we just defined a pattern that’s useful for prediction: a certain string of actions and reactions that occur within a specific set of conditions. Aren’t those also descriptions of plot and setting? …

In fact, we’re so addicted to ferreting out a useful pattern from consumed data that we’ll often see narratives when they aren’t really there: conspiracies, astrology, the man who ends up on “Dateline” after being wrongly accused of killing a wife who actually slipped in the tub. Randomness, events that seem to have happened without just, plausible cause or didn’t lead to a logical, believable result—this is data that our brain has no use for. Much better for us to find a narrative in the nonsense, because a narrative is what we seek, what brings us that pattern pleasure, what satisfies our need to turn the chaos at the center of our Times Square-ish universe into something we can contemplate and navigate.