The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

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Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?

In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.

Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That people who read more fiction are more empathetic?

Of course, our story instinct has a darker side. It makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories, advertisements, and narratives about ourselves that are more “truthy” than true. National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitler’s ambitions were partly fueled by a story.

But as Gottschall shows in this remarkable book, stories can also change the world for the better. Most successful stories are moral—they teach us how to live, whether explicitly or implicitly, and bind us together around common values. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
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About the author

Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College and is one of the leading figures in the movement toward a more scientific humanities. The author or editor of five scholarly books, Gottschall’s work has been prominently featured in the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Steven Pinker has called him "a brilliant young scholar" whose writing is "unfailingly clear, witty, and exciting."

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Additional Information

Publisher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Published on
Apr 10, 2012
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780547644813
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Books & Reading
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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An English professor begins training in the sport of mixed martial arts and explores the science and history behind the violence of men

When a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym moves in across the street from his office, Jonathan Gottschall sees a challenge, and an opportunity. Pushing forty, out of shape, and disenchanted with his job as an adjunct English professor, part of him yearns to cross the street and join up. The other part is terrified. Gottschall eventually works up his nerve, and starts training for a real cage fight. He’s fighting not only as a personal test but also to answer questions that have intrigued him for years: Why do men fight? And why do so many seemingly decent people like to watch?

In The Professor in the Cage, Gottschall’s unlikely journey from the college classroom to the fighting cage drives an important new investigation into the science and history of violence. Mixed martial arts is a full-contact hybrid sport in which fighters punch, choke, and kick each other into submission. MMA requires intense strength, endurance, and skill; the fights are bloody, brutal, and dangerous. Yet throughout the last decade, cage fighting has evolved from a small-time fringe spectacle banned in many states to the fastest-growing spectator sport in America.

But the surging popularity of MMA, far from being new, is just one more example of our species’ insatiable interest not just in violence but in the rituals that keep violence contained. From duels to football to the roughhousing of children, humans are masters of what Gottschall calls the monkey dance: a dizzying variety of rule-bound contests that establish hierarchies while minimizing risk and social disorder. In short, Gottschall entered the cage to learn about the violence in men, but learned instead how men keep violence in check.

Gottschall endures extremes of pain, occasional humiliation, and the incredulity of his wife to take us into the heart of fighting culture—culminating, after almost two years of grueling training, in his own cage fight. Gottschall’s unsparing personal journey crystallizes in his epiphany, and ours, that taming male violence through ritualized combat has been a hidden key to the success of the human race. Without the restraining codes of the monkey dance, the world would be a much more chaotic and dangerous place.
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.

Bonus material added to the revised and expanded 2006 edition

The original New York Times Magazine article about Steven D. Levitt by Stephen J. Dubner, which led to the creation of this book.

Seven “Freakonomics” columns written for the New York Times Magazine, published between August 2005 and April 2006.

Selected entries from the Freakonomics blog, posted between April 2005 and May 2006 at http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/.

An English professor begins training in the sport of mixed martial arts and explores the science and history behind the violence of men

When a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym moves in across the street from his office, Jonathan Gottschall sees a challenge, and an opportunity. Pushing forty, out of shape, and disenchanted with his job as an adjunct English professor, part of him yearns to cross the street and join up. The other part is terrified. Gottschall eventually works up his nerve, and starts training for a real cage fight. He’s fighting not only as a personal test but also to answer questions that have intrigued him for years: Why do men fight? And why do so many seemingly decent people like to watch?

In The Professor in the Cage, Gottschall’s unlikely journey from the college classroom to the fighting cage drives an important new investigation into the science and history of violence. Mixed martial arts is a full-contact hybrid sport in which fighters punch, choke, and kick each other into submission. MMA requires intense strength, endurance, and skill; the fights are bloody, brutal, and dangerous. Yet throughout the last decade, cage fighting has evolved from a small-time fringe spectacle banned in many states to the fastest-growing spectator sport in America.

But the surging popularity of MMA, far from being new, is just one more example of our species’ insatiable interest not just in violence but in the rituals that keep violence contained. From duels to football to the roughhousing of children, humans are masters of what Gottschall calls the monkey dance: a dizzying variety of rule-bound contests that establish hierarchies while minimizing risk and social disorder. In short, Gottschall entered the cage to learn about the violence in men, but learned instead how men keep violence in check.

Gottschall endures extremes of pain, occasional humiliation, and the incredulity of his wife to take us into the heart of fighting culture—culminating, after almost two years of grueling training, in his own cage fight. Gottschall’s unsparing personal journey crystallizes in his epiphany, and ours, that taming male violence through ritualized combat has been a hidden key to the success of the human race. Without the restraining codes of the monkey dance, the world would be a much more chaotic and dangerous place.
★「紐約時報書評」選書
★「洛杉磯時報好書獎」決選書單

故事可以改變你的行為,故事讓我們成為人類。
因為故事就是大腦的生存戰場!



  兇手就躲在黑暗處,漸漸接近渾然不知的女主角……你竟然對著電視大喊:「快逃!他在你後面啊!」為什麼大腦明明知道這一切都是虛構的,卻不聽使喚地跟著主角恐懼、驚慌、痛哭?

  透過最新的腦科學研究,作者挑戰了我們對故事的理解。故事往往只被視為休閒娛樂,它讓人放鬆心情,淨化人類的心靈。若是如此,為什麼許多經典小說情節中卻充滿了災難、恐懼、死亡、離別等沉重的事件?甚至連不同文化的小男孩小女孩,他們創作出來的故事也都充滿了暴力、毀滅等元素?從這些原型中又如何解讀出故事和人類大腦演化的關聯性呢?

  作者透過分析各種故事原型,以最新的腦神經醫學、心理學研究和實驗為基礎,說明故事之所以會吸引我們,正是因為人類的大腦在接收故事情節的同時,學習並強化了自身對未知情境和各種棘手事件的反應,這是人類在面對大自然和社會複雜情境時所需要的生存本能。

  故事就是大腦的生存戰場。

  在今天充斥各種以故事包裝商品和個人形象的世界,故事的影響力愈來愈受到重視。想了解故事如何影響我們的大腦並改變我們的行為,這本書你一定不能錯過。

名人推薦

  各界專家一致好評推薦(依姓名筆畫排列)
  林君昱 國立成功大學心理學系助理教授
  邱于芸 國立台北科技大學文化事業發展系助理教授
  詹宏志 PChome Online董事長

  本書活潑又具洞見,頌揚人類把周遭所有事物都化為故事的原始本能。──「紐約時報書評」

  因為故事,我們才成為人類。本書以科學和故事告訴我們為何如此。──明尼亞玻利斯「明星論壇報」

  充滿活力的科普讀物,它指出我們為什麼喜歡故事,以及為何故事會永遠存在。作者綜合最新的心理學、睡眠研究和虛擬實境,以深入淺出的方式寫作,他自己就是一位說故事高手。──「科克斯書評」

  作者從人類學和神經科學的研究出發,發現故事是人類生存和演化的一部份。──「書頁專評」

  這本書小心翼翼地結合藝術與科學,手法相當高明,讀起來很有收穫,令人振奮且擴展思維。──Terry Castle 史丹佛大學哈斯人文講座教授

  這本書緊緊抓住了讀者的心思,作者分享了許多生動的故事,以及說故事本身的故事,綜合起來說明為何說故事是人類的本能。──Edward Wilson 哈佛大學昆蟲學榮譽館長

  大家都知道我們一天花好幾個小時沉浸在故事中,但卻沒有人問為什麼?作者以機智的方式探索人類這項天性,原來我們熱愛故事本身就是一則故事,更重要的是,故事對人類具有極重要的意義。──Sam Kean 《消失的湯匙》作者

  非常好讀易懂的一本書。作者深入觀察電視、小說、電影、電動、夢境、兒童、精神疾病、演化、道德、愛……而且文筆生動有趣,作者本身就是一位說故事高手。──Paul Bloom 耶魯大學心理系教授

  人為什麼會說故事、聽故事、沉浸在故事的世界中?作者從多種面向切入探討,並舉出了許多心理學與神經科學的發現來說明故事的功能與未來……──林君昱 國立成功大學心理學系助理教授

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