Why stories are so important #2

June 9th, 2019

When I was eighteen, some friends and I went to the drive-in to watch the Steven Spielberg movie Duel. It was Spielberg’s second movie, so his name didn’t mean a lot at the time, especially to four blissfully ignorant young Tasmanians.

Duel is the story of a man on a business trip who is tormented and chased and threatened by an ancient truck. Really of course it’s the driver, but because you never see him the truck itself becomes the antagonist.

It was the perfect movie to watch at the drive-in – if you wanted to be frightened out of your wits. Which I was. It was the first and last time that I have ever voluntarily gone to see a horror movie.

When we read or watch or listen to a story, the same areas of our brain light up as if we were actually experiencing what’s happening. Scientists suggest that this is one of the reasons why stories became so important in the evolution of humans. They gave us the chance to imagine the future, to test out situations without having to put ourselves in them.

This was pretty important stuff in a dangerous prehistoric world.

But it continues to be important today, even for people whose surroundings aren’t so perilous. Stories scare us, they entertain us, and they bring us joy. But most of all, they open our minds and hearts to other possibilities.

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” — Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

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