The Storytelling Animal | Jonathan Gottschall

Summary of: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
By: Jonathan Gottschall


Dive into the fascinating world of stories and their impact on human lives in Jonathan Gottschall’s ‘The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human’. This book explores the important role stories play in shaping our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and even our understanding of reality. Discover why our brains are addicted to storytelling, how stories have real-life applications, and the psychological and sociological aspects of the tales we weave. Get ready to learn the power of storytelling and its impact on our daydreams, dreams, self-perception, and more.

The Addiction to Made-Up Stories

Our brains are addicted to made-up stories that dominate our lives. From movies and TV shows to daydreams and sports broadcasting, we constantly spin stories that follow a similar structure of a person trying to overcome a problem. This addiction to stories is not just something we consume, but we’re also excessive daydreamers, experiencing around a thousand daydreams per day, each lasting about 14 seconds, dreaming away approximately four hours of every day. As trouble is more interesting, stories are always about a person overcoming a problem, which makes them fascinating and captivating. Hence, storytelling is an essential human trait that defines our humanity.

Why Do We Crave Stories?

Did you know that stories can make us fitter? Evolution made food and sex enjoyable to ensure our survival, but why do we also crave stories? Fictional stories can help us explore different ways of dealing with predicaments and gain experience without actual consequences. It’s like a pilot training in a simulated cockpit. Stories can also enhance our social skills, as they improve empathy and conflict resolution. Even though we know stories are made-up, our brains can’t differentiate and react as if they are real. We don’t just perceive a story, we live it as if it’s happening to us. So, next time you enjoy a good book or movie, you’re also training your brain for real-life experiences.

The Universal Storytelling Structure of Dreams

Have you ever thought of how your dreams are like a private screening of a movie with you as the star? Interestingly, dreams follow a storytelling structure that focuses on a hero or heroine – usually yourself – struggling to attain something, just like all good stories. Dreams also serve as rehearsal for real life. Through dreamed-up conflicts, our brain learns and forms new connections even though we often forget our dreams. However, the implicit or unconscious memory retains the knowledge for future use. Moreover, the most common dreams are about being attacked or chased, falling, drowning, and more. But fortunately, sleep paralysis or atonia keeps us from acting out our dreams and harming ourselves or others.

Making Sense of a Chaotic World

Humans have a natural tendency to seek order in a seemingly random world. Our storytelling minds construct meaning out of chaos, often weaving false explanations for events. Conspiracies theories are a perfect example of this human tendency. Despite being popular among all demographics, such as the 36% of young Democrats who believe the US government was involved in the 9/11 attack, such theories provide simplistic yet reassuring answers that may be wrong.

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