The Storytelling Animal Book Summary, by Jonathan Gottschall

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1-Page Summary of The Storytelling Animal

Overview

What makes humans special? After all, other animals are also intelligent. We no longer believe that the ability to use tools or to recognize our reflection in the mirror is exclusively human.

Humans are unique in that they can calm their children by telling them stories. Stories help us escape reality and enter a fantasy world where anything is possible. We’re drawn to stories, whether we realize it or not. And you’ll learn why this happens in the following paragraphs. You’ll find out about the many functions of storytelling for humans as well as how they affect our lives unconsciously.

By reading this passage, you’ll find out how much time people spend daydreaming each day; why they’re more like Sherlock Holmes than they may have thought; and why too much realism could endanger their mental health.

Big Idea #1: Our lives are full of make-believe stories that always seem to revolve around trouble.

Your brain spends a lot of time thinking about things that aren’t real. While you’re at work, your mind is in places like the beach or Hogwarts from Harry Potter. When you go to bed, it tries to escape zombies.

All of us have fantasies, and we’re addicted to them. They are the subject matter for movies and books, as well as our daydreams. We even encounter stories in sports broadcasts.

For example, the way pro wrestling fights are staged look a lot like theater plays. They have simple story lines with typical schemes and conflicts between the protagonist and antagonist.

We are constantly dreaming and thinking of stories. We think about these stories every day, with each thought lasting around 14 seconds on average. All in all, we spend approximately four hours a day doing this.

Stories are a universal way of communicating. They’re everywhere, from books to movies and even our everyday lives. Stories have a common structure regardless of where they come from or what medium they use. In fact, stories are about overcoming obstacles and problems in life. For example, Harry Potter is trying to overcome the evil Voldemort by battling him throughout the series.

Trouble is just more interesting.

Big Idea #2: With the help of stories we can practice for real life.

You probably enjoy food and sex. Evolution has made these things enjoyable so that you would survive and procreate. But you probably also like stories, too. So why would evolution make us crave stories? In a world where only the fittest survive, how do stories make us fitter? Stories help us prepare for real-life situations by allowing us to experience them in our minds before we encounter those situations in reality. For instance, simply through imagining, you can experience to a certain degree how you would react if you encountered a tiger in the jungle or what you would do if your spouse is cheating on you.

Pilots use flight simulators to practice flights. Similarly, stories are used to practice problems.

Fiction can also improve our social skills. One study found that fiction readers have better social skills than nonfiction readers. All the practice they get consuming fictional conflict makes them better at empathizing with others and settling strife. You might be thinking, “That’s absurd! How can we possibly practice for real life by dealing with stories that aren’t even true?” Fair point. However, even though we know the stories are made up, they still feel real to our brain.

The Storytelling Animal Book Summary, by Jonathan Gottschall

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