The University welcomed acclaimed author Jonathan Gottschall on Feb. 19 in honor of Darwin Day. Gottschall spoke in Trout Auditorium about his 2012 book entitled “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.” The Departments of Biology and English, the University Lectureship Committee, and the Bucknell Innovation Group organized the event.
Traditionally celebrated on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, Feb. 12, Darwin Day celebrates the groundbreaking theory of evolution and its impact on our world today. Gottschall offered a unique perspective by sharing his thoughts on the human fascination with storytelling and how the human need for stories finds its basis in evolution. His discussion focused around one key question: “Why do people like stories?”
Gottschall describes humans as “Homo fictus” or “fiction man,” natural interpreters and creators of stories. He noted that the core of human social interaction is storytelling and that humans simply cannot stop telling stories. While adults often label “make believe” as childish behavior, society neglects to identify its own “Peter Pan” syndrome of continuous story creation.
Further evidence for constant story production is provided by dreams, a phenomenon that Gottschall defined as “intense sensory motor hallucinations.” As strange and seemingly meaningless as dreams can be, the average human will spend approximately 10 years of his or her life dreaming. With so much time dedicated to making even more stories, the storytelling process must have some significance for human life.
Animal behaviorists have concluded that animals display play behavior to obtain necessary life skills, and Gottschall similarly suggested that humans ultimately use “fictional situations” to “enhance empathy.” Humans are neurologically affected by the experience of a story.
“[Stories] sink in, change us throughout our lives,” Gottschall said. “[Humans are] built to be made by stories.”
“As a Biochemistry major, I found the meshing of both the storytelling world and my world of science to really connect two things that I love. Hearing how the stories that I grew up with and how renowned authors who wrote them draw from so many different facets of life was truly intriguing,” Maria Jones ’15 said.