Why Humans Need Story
Stories are like individual threads weaving a tapestry together that forms an overall picture of our existence. Scientists have theorized that story is how our brains sort through information and organize our internal “data” to make sense of our world. Why do we need this shared and often synergistic experience of being taken on an adventure of the mind? Frank Rose wrote in Wired: Business,
“Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence, and that it is common to every known culture. It involves a symbiotic exchange between the teller and listener—an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others.” (wired.com)
I am not a scientist, but as an artist and writer, I believe the reason we seek entertainment in stories and are glued to epics such as Game of Thrones is because we long to step out of our conscious mind to be whole. Stories allow us to experience things without risk to ourselves, allow us a sense of community, and as writers and creatives, provides the opportunity to share ideas with others.
Stories allow us to experience things without danger to ourselves. Jonathan Gottschall (recounted in Scientific American) suggests that stories embellish other people’s problems, provide the potential of solution, and celebrate the overcoming of struggles without personal cost. He believes that the stories inform the audience of current social niceties and rules of behavior. This explains children stories that warn about the dangers of going into a dark, scary forest at night. “Storytelling could be an evolutionary mechanism that helped keep our ancestors alive (Delistraty, The Atlantic).”
Additionally, epic tales often offer a sense of community and camaraderie. Though we have the modern world of Netflix and Kindle filled with all genres of stories, our love for stories is nothing new. Humans gathered around bonfires regaling tales about the day’s hunts for thousands of years. For those who didn’t go on the hunt, the retailing of such epic events allowed everyone in the community to experience the same excitement, loss, and win. Today, some people engage in televised sports to benefit from a similar sensation, however, most people need the other worldly events through story. Humans find community in sharing stories. It is the fundamental reason that a theater can be filled with people who have nothing else in common but the shared experience of the story in a singular movie. The audience receives the story that the creators tried to relate—and hope that they communicated it successfully.
Finally, breaking down story scientifically tends to leave out the nature of human creativity. Much is said about how stories influence the audience, but why do the story-tellers need to tell the stories in the first place? Writers often embellish and present the details in the best light possible for the greatest emotional impact as artists have a driving need to share their creativity and deeper thoughts with others. It is a desire to share ideas and observations the collective community with the hope, I think, of making life better and more enriched for all. The consensus of why humans need stories is for survival, but perhaps, “survival” isn’t so concrete or literal. Somehow, we need stories to live through experiences and consequences without harming ourselves, we want the community forged by the cohesive gathering, and we need the self-examination of humanity that artists and writers grant through their works. We need the epic of dragons blasting through walls of ice as a way of stepping outside of ourselves to reevaluate, experience, adventure, and daydream.
#writing #fiction #nonfiction #stories #amwriting