ON THE ORIGIN OF STORIES: EVOLUTION, COGNITION, AND FICTION

 

BY BRIAN BOYD

 

THE BELKNAP PRESS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

2009

 

INTRODUCTION: ANIMAL, HUMAN, ART, STORY  . . . PAGE 1

Art, he will argue, derives from play.

2 – folks in literary studies want to return to text, from Theory.

 

4- Like some humans arts, dolphin air art involves design but not representation.

 

10 – We draw inferences well.  We get a whole story from “Rash come back it was only a rash.”

 

BOOK ONE: EVOLUTION, ART, AND FICTION . . . PAGE 13

 

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PART 1

EVOLUTION AND NATURE

14 – Humans uniquely inhabit the ‘cognitive niche.’ We therefore have an appetite for information, and especially pattern, information that falls into meaningful arrays from which we can make rich inferences.

 

15 – “We can define art as play with pattern.”

 

CHAPTER 1: EVOLUTION AND HUMAN NATURE?  . . . PAGE 19

 

21 – Humans are genetically an unusually uniform species.  (three humans selected from around the world will differ genetically much less on average than three chimpanzees).  And there is more variation within a local ethnically homogeneous population than between one ethnic population and another. 

 

22 – Among gorillas no other male dares attempt to contest the dominant silverback’s control of all the women. They have tiny testicles.

 

23 – Explanations of differences in, say, our culture or their culture, look empty when we realize that similar differences exist in human cultures and 100s of animal species.

 

25 – “Far from being unique to humans, culture – the nongenetic transmission of behavior, including local customs and even fashions – has been discovered over the last few decades in many animal social species, in birds as well as mammals.”

 

27 – “If we were entirely socially constructed ,our “society” could mold us into slaves and masters, and there would be no reason to object, since those would henceforth be our socially constructed natures.”

 

28 – Biologists now see the cooperation that makes human culture possible as the latest major transition in evolution.”

 

CHAPTER 2: EVOLUTION, ADAPTION, AND ADAPTED MINDS . . .  PAGE 31

 

33 – Eyes have evolved independently perhaps over 60 times.

 

34 – An adaptation is any trait modified by natural selection that enhances fitness, the capacity to survive and produce viable offspring. 

 

35 – Art in general and storytelling in particular are also adaptations in our species.  Far from being ornaments, they often become pivots in human lives.

 

36 – We choke more and swallow less than other species due to our larynx.  Some stuff isn’t adaptive, like the redness of blood.  And, some adaptations are not perfect, just better on average than the competition.   And, they aren’t built to be functional now. 

 

41 – Frans de Waal said there is “no way around an evolutionary approach to human behavior.”  And said that in another half century, all psychology departments will have portraits of Darwin on their walls.  This is because psychology and social science  are full of unconnected minitheories or empirical findings with no theoretical framework.

 

“Literature has been the great repository of our detailed knowledge of human nature in the past.  It will be illuminated by, and it will illuminate, our knowledge of an even deeper past.”

 

CHAPTER 3: THE EVOLUTION OF INTELLIGENCE . . . PAGE 42

42 – Flexible behavior requires more, not less, genetic underpinning.  Just as a computer can do more with more hardware or software. 

 

Tooby and Cosmides argue that the mind is like a swiss army knife, full of mechanisms that solve particular adaptive problems.

 

43 – Senses evolved first to react to invariatnt features of the environment.

 

45 – We respond with decided emotional biases: infants smile in answer to smiles and show fear if they meet unflinching stares or unresponsive faces. 

 

A chimp will have much the same reaction to any Columbus monkey or leopard.  But, it’s reaction to other chimps depends on its size, sex, age, personality, status, alliances and the situation. 

 

Our greatest intelligence pressures arise from our need to track such social information.

 

46 – Once bands become advantageous we need to see what we can secure from the band. 

 

Neurologically, this means each neuron in the neocortex communicates with proportionately fewer neighboring neurons than before the expansion. 

 

47 – In the severely limited space of working memory, we process information consciously and explicitly. 

 

48 – So evolution is the history of building on and integrating earlier functions (sight to decisions). 

 

49 – He will suggest that one function of story telling is that it makes us more expert in social situations, speeding up our capacity to process patterns of social information, to make inferences from other minds and from situations fraught with choices. 

 

50 – By developing our ability to think beyond the here and now, storytelling helps us not to override the given, but to be less restricted by it, to cope with it more flexibly. 

 

CHAPTER 4: THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION . . . . PAGE 51

 

51 – Cooperation has long been a focus of sociobiology.

 

52 – Recently multi-level selection theory is big. Selfishness beats altruism within groups; altruism beat selfishness between groups.

 

53 – Culture easily amplifies group differences, and hence the force of group selection, since although genetic mutations can spread over generations, cultural changes happen within one.

 

54 – In pray species evolution gradually favored those most inclined to stay together.

 

Parenting is the most obvious case of this.  It perpetuates your genes.

 

55 – We execute evolutionary logic not via conscious calculation, but by following our feelings, which were designed as logic executers.

 

60 -  People who cannot usually detect violations of “if – then” rules can do so easily when the violation involves cheating in social exchange. 

 

61 – Across human cultures, and in many other species, individuals include to punish others for cheating.  Emotions register unfairness and motivate punishment.

 

62 – In one experiment, I can give you as much as I want of $100.  You can reject it and we both lose.  People reject unfair small sums, though it is free money.  And culture dictates how much people offer eachother.  But in ten out of 15 societies studied, the average was 50%. 

 

Monkeys do the same.

 

64 – Stories come out of social monitoring and they encourage cooperation.

 

65 – Some say we have become able to override our selfish desires. Others, that our genes create emotions that are moral and motivate us to inhibit our more social impulses.

 

 

PART 2

EVOLUTION AND ART

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CHAPTER 5: ART AS ADAPTATION?  . . . PAGE 69

---Position #1: Art is not a meaningful category; it ranges from hickory dickory dock to the Great Sphinx.

 

---Position #2: Art is not a human universal.  The Western concept of Art arose only in the 18th century of Europe.

 

----Position #3: Art can be explained entirely by culture.  We are shaped by our culture.

 

---Position #4: Art can be explained in terms of its functions.  This has been proposed outside of the evolutionary framework.  It is individual display or creates group identification.  And it creates a sense of order.

 

Herein, we get three big categories of theories: Mimetic theories stress art’s function as representing the world.  But, this cannot account for most music. It also doesn’t do abstract art (like scarring and tattoos).  Expressive theories look at the artists’ compulsion to express themselves.  This is tautological, though – all we do expresses ourselves.  Communicative theories explain art by the response it engenders in others.  There are also institutional theories that look at Warhol but this is circular too. 

 

73 – There are good reasons to suspect we need biology as well as culture to capture theories of art: 1)  It is universal;  2) it has persisted over 1000s of generations; 3) At has some major form in all civilizations; 4) It is high in cost and resources.  5) It stirs strong emotions; 6) it develops in all normal humans, reliably, without special training (unlike reading, writing, or science).

 

---  Position # 5: Art is a product, not of natural selection, but of sexual selection.  But, why this form of competition?  

 

76 – Also art is not overwhelmingly male and directed at females and only during puberty.  Miller does show rock musicians peak in their prime years.  But, mothers sing to their babies.  And all-girl groups exist. 

 

Steven Brown looks at song maintaining territory and relationships.  It is in courtship.   

 

77 – It plays a significant role in defending territory, but no Primates do calls for courtship.  When we harmonize and keep to rhythym, it is coordination. 

Plus recent evidence suggests that music reduces sexual inclination: singing lowers men’s testosterone levels, this is compatible with a cooperative, not competitive account of music’s origins.

 

78 – Tattooing does peak at maximum reproduction ages. But, in most societies it is a mark of group affiliation. 

 

 

----Position #5:

 

CHAPTER 6: ART AS COGNITIVE PLAY . . . PAGE 80

 

---Position #6: Art si a byproduct of adaptive features of the mind.  This would be Pinker’s cheesecake theory.

 

83 – But art requires intense effort.  And, natural selection didn’t weed it out.

 

84 – More successful societies have more art than others.

 

85 – He sees art as cognitive play, designed to engage human attention, through patterned information.  And, it has two functions:

 

86 – 1) It serves as a stimulus and trainging for the flexible mind, as play does for the body.  2) Art becomes a social and individual system for engendering creativity, for producing options not confined by the here and now. 

 

87 – All living things, from unicellular animals to plants, have evolved to be pattern extractors.

 

88 – We and other primates prefer a sense of beauty and order over randomness and chaos.

 

90 – Noise is very disturbing.  Order is nice.

 

91 – Patterns set up expectations that they may satisfy, overturn, or revise.  The most salient patterns for us in stories are agents, and action, character and plot, intentions and outcomes. 

 

As human intelligence evolved out of curiousity in other animals, art evolved from play.  It is not only in every mammal, but in many birds, and even some fish and reptiles and invertebrates (octopi). 

 

92 – It allows us to master necessary skills.  Play fighting.  Self-rewarding play – fighting.

 

93 – Play releases dopamine. It is a key motivator of evolutionarily positive acts like eating and sex.

 

95 – Desmond Morris found chimps who were not paid for painting, painted longer.   After childhood, most adults become consumers rather than producers of art, except in singing and storytelling for their children.

 

96 – Chimp mothers rarely gaze into their babies eyes or communicate with them, though they will respond when babies initiate play bit by bit, and will tickle and laugh in tender reply.

 

98 – Humans expect others to share interest, attention, and response.

 

CHAPTER 7: ART AND ATTENTION . . . PAGE 99

 

101 – Art offers us social benefits by encouraging us to share attention in coordinated ways that improve our attunement with one another.

 

We coordinate via language.  But we motivate continued cooperation.  And, art has played a key role in this.

 

102 – In order to motivate complex cooperation, animals need to derive interest and please from attending to each other.  As dolphins do with synchronized play.   But, even with chimps this shared attention is coarse. 

 

Groups become more cooperative through selection for cooperative dispositions of their members.  Coyote pups disinclined to play bond less tightly to others in the group, strike out more often on their own, and are 3 times as likely to die young.

 

103 – Parrots, duetting songbirds, gibbons and humans tend to act and sound like those they wish to ally with. 

 

Language can be used for cooperation and competition.  But unconscious emotional contagion that works before language and below conscious awareness allows us to coordinate genuinely cooperative intentions.  Mirror neurons!

 

105 – We used to do art cooperatively.  But even when listening alone, we are synching with someone else via their art.  And “we still respond more intensely if we form a part of a large audience, that listens, claps, sings, sways, dances, laughs, or cries together.”

 

106 – Chimpanzees celebrate through excited cries or matching movements. They also engage in flexible cooperation against others and harmonize attention among themselves through pattern and rhythm, chant and dance. 

 

107 – The day after Sept 11, 2001, Congress assembled on the steps of the Capital to sing “God Bless America.”

 

109 – In reverse dominance behavior, we use ridicule, ostracism, and even expulsion to thwart individual’s attempts to earn special treatment. 

 

110 – The more dominant a primate, the more attention others direct towards him or her. 

 

111 – Art can make you popular and rich.

 

 

112 – We imitate the most common.

 

 

CHAPTER 8: FROM TRADITION TO INNOVATION . . . PAGE 113

 

113 – Like hands, art has multiple functions, some reflecting its origins in long established animal behavior like play and social coordination.

 

For 1000s of generations it has not only served religion, but helped intragroup cooperation and intergroup competition.

 

114 – No one has found art from more than 90,000 years ago.  But body decoration goes back 120,000.  Art seems to have long preceded religion. 

 

115 – To merit attention, stories select the striking, unusual characters or events or both.  We best remember characters that violate our categorical expectations.   Because we understand false belief, because we can appreciate that we may not know the whole story; we want an explanation that sees behind the visible.

 

116 – Infants develop a ‘theory of things’ and a ‘theory of mind.’

 

117 – West African Dagara believe in punishing spirits.  Recent research has shown, large-scale cooperation can be fragile in the absence of punishment yet relatively easily established and maintained with punishment.

 

Rituals “with high cost, but little sensory appeal – prostration, prayer, recitation, offerings, tithes, fasting, sacrifice, mutilation, pilgrimage – can also serve as cohesive social signals.”  But ritual with art has several advantages.

 

118 – Studies show the advantages of social cohesion easily repay the effort invested in ritual practice and outweigh the disadvantages of belief in nonexistent spirits.

 

119 – “I have proposed that 1) Art begins as a solitary and shared pattern of cognitive play, whose self-rewarding nature reshapes human minds, and that it intensifies impact by raising 2) the status of individual artists and 3) our general inclination to cooperate closely with one another, with or without religion.  Out of these three functions, I further propose, there gradual emerges another major function of art, at odds with the social-cohesive role of traditional art: 4) creativity.”

 

Earlier art was not about creativity.   But art evolved to encourage creativity.

 

120 – Generating possibilities and variations is important.

 

121 – 1) Art is a Darwin Machine: Darwin machines explore possibilities;

2) art involves not just private ideas but patterned external forms, sounds, surface, shape and story that is durable, or at least replicable.

3) Because art appeals to our cognitive prefrences for pattern; it is self-motivating.

4) We test art as well.  We self-monitor and rehearse for desired results.

5) Since we pay close attention to others, art can earn esteem and interest.

6) The testing mechanisms is other’s attention.

7) (122) We imitate, so we can improve and build upon.

8) Established artistic forms reduce invention costs.

9) The existence of established forms also reduces attention and comprehension costs.

10) IN a system designed to secure attention, habituation encourages innovation.

11) We appreciate even minor variations on pattern.

 

123 – Art also encourages useful moves.  Ocher has been traded for 120,000 years.

 

124 – Slum dwellers, with a picture on the wall, affirm that they shape at least part of their lives to their pleasure.

 

125 – By refining and strengthening our sociality, by making us readier to use the resource of he imagination ,and by raising our confidence in shaping life on our terms, art fundamentally alters our relation to the world.

 

PART 3

EVOLUTION AND FICTION

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CHAPTER 9: ART, NARRATIVE, FICTION . . . PAGE 129

 

129 – In terms of why we like narrative, gossip and history and ‘the appetite for the true’ don’t ring true.

 

130 - If it is play, it is play with social patterns.   Music and visual arts hit senses, but narrative goes for higher-order information.

 

A biocultural approach to literature focuses on species competencies.  1) to understand events in ways similar to but in richer ways than other animals. (ch 10)

2) to form and follow representations of events or narratives (ch 11) 3) to invent stories as cognitive play (ch 13).  They build up slowly, from simpler predecessors, but alter markedly as they pass through the evolutionary transition of ultrasociality.

 

CHAPTER 10: UNDERSTANDING AND RECALLING EVENTS . . . PAGE 132

132 – Babies as early as 45 minutes imitate simple actions.  Within two days they can imitate surprised, sad, and happy faces.

 

134 – Minds do predict what will happen next.

 

135 – Infants develop theories of objects long before language, starting with trajectory, then moving to object coherence and cohesion,

 

136 – Some neurological patients can name living things, but not other objects. Neurons have been found that respond to biological, but not nonbiological motion.

 

137 – We predict changes in animal movement faster than we do for cars.

 

In 1944 people saw a black and white film with shapes moving.  People give reasons of conflict. 

 

138 – Children grasp desires, though not beliefs.

 

Many animals have sympathy with others’ distress.  Rats and monkeys have a default response to others of their kind, not just their kin, who they see in distress.

 

139 – Animals not only recognize other individuals but discriminate between them.

 

140 – Even barnacles and tadpoles distinguish kin from non-kin.   All animals effortlessly track the hierarchy of their own species.  Animals have a sense of fairness and righteous indignation as well as forgiveness and reconciliation; generosity and gratitude, detecting cheating. 

 

141 – 1 ½ year old kids give toys to the distressed and try to comfort. 

 

142 – Researchers have begun to realize that we have probably reached our unique human level of theory of mind through pressures to cooperate more closely against other groups.

 

“Nevertheless a fully human theory of mind requires a capacity for interpreting others not simply through outer actions and expressions, and even through inner states like goals, intentions, and desires, but uniquely also through beliefs.”

 

143 – Our eyes have evolved to reveal our intentions. 

 

144 – Autistics seem to lack TOM (theory of mind).

 

146 – In the sally-anne test, anne puts the marble in a basket, sally then moves it.  Ask the child where will anne look for the marble when she comes back?  Three year olds regularly fail this test.  Between 4 and 5 they pass.  They realize that someone can have a different belief than them and it can be false. 

 

147 - If asked what was in a tube of smarties, after they guess smarties and it was shown to be pencils, three year olds say ‘pencils.’ 

 

Before the age of 5 children cannot understand or remember clearly either their own or other’s mistaken beliefs. 

 

149 - Theory of mind, and not language may have been the driving force behind the unprecedented expansion of the human brain.  Broca and Wernicke’s are much smaller than areas associated with theory of mind abilities in the prefrontal cortex.

 

150 – Children detect temporal connections, causes, and goals in events before they can follow them in narrative.  They understand temporal causal structure before one year of age.

 

151 – From 13 months they can interpret the behaviors of others in terms of a goal.

 

153 – Young children can verbalize memories even if the event on which they are reporting occurred before the advent of productive language capability. 

 

154 – We tend to remember the ‘gist’ rather than detail.  In stories, we remember not words, but our inferences about sequences, goals, and causes.

 

Children recall events in chronological order even if they have been told them out of order by six.

 

We come to conclusions about people very quickly.

 

155 – Literary analysis tends to stress words and conventions.  We can now work with grounded cognition that relies more on experience.

 

156 – Damage to my visual area of my brain will make it more likely that I’ll lose animals as a category, damage to my motor area, tools.

 

CHAPTER 11: NARRATIVE: REPRESENTING EVENTS  . . . PAGE 159

 

159 – Narrative need not involve language: It can operate through mime, still pictures, shadow-puppets, and silent movies. However, it does need external representation. 

 

Lately many say the self is narrative, they disagree.  Event comprehension lies at the core of understanding experience, but we do not represent all our experience in narrative form, even to ourselves.

 

160 – Richard Dawkins and J. R. Krebs argued in 1978 that communications should arise more for competitive than for cooperative reasons: we should expect the manipulation rather than the accurate transmission of information.  But competition thrives on concealing info.  Cooperation, by contrast, fully gains from communication.

 

162 – Two experimenters raised a chimp to see if it would become like their son. The son imitated the chimp more, so they broke it off.  We rehearse and imitate.

 

Color and motion have  a popout effect within the visual system.  So too for human form. 

 

164 – 165  In our ancestral environment strategic social information would almost always have been about people we had already met and would meet again.  We therefore have an endless fascination with character information, since it helps us predict the behavior of those we interact with and remains stable over time.

 

166 – When the Himba meet they spend much of the day rehearsing the heroic deeds of their ancestor. 

 

Individual memory evolved because sufficient regularities exist in the world.  But since things are never exactly the same, we have to recognize similarities.   We matched what had happened to what was and would.  But, we still had to act within our own experience.  Narrative allowed us to share experiences.

 

167 – But how does this benefit tellers?  We compete to give gossip first. And, only 10% is about the good deeds of others.

 

It gives the teller future credit on social information exchange.

 

168 – Attention is status. So we tell good stories to get attention.  We spend more than half of our waking discourse in gossip. 

 

169 – Those who offer info to the powerful benefit directly: Polonius and Claudius.

 

170 – Telling a good story takes strategy.  We can hold the floor longer if we do.

 

171 – If we seek to manipulate our audience we must remember the rules of communicative cooperation:  We are angry at dishonesty, uncomfortable with flattery, get angry at unfounded denigration, or betrayal of confidence, we are annoyed at self-promoters and irritated with bores.

 

175 – Language can report events so well because our overwhelming interest in human action itself shaped language.

 

176 – Narrative especially helps coordinate groups, by informing members of one another’s actions.  It spreads prosocial values, the likeliest to appeal to both tellers and listeners.  It develops our capacity to see from different perspectives, and this aids in cooperation again.

 

CHAPTER 12: FICTION: INVENTING EVENTS  . . . PAGE 177

177 – In pretend play, children readily make up stories they can act out.  They easily break frame.  Direction, narration and enactment flow into each other.  Consistency does not matter.

 

183 – A child telling about things falling down has a story, but he doesn’t kow that they incorporate not just characters, events, and locations but also aims, goals, actions and outcomes.   But, he gets that defying gravity is interesting.

 

184 – By the time a child is 3 or 4 their pretend play and early stories aim not at realism but at catching the attention through fantastic characters and actions that violate expectations.

 

185 – Big events happen.  The ghosts chase out the people.

 

186 – Rather than real, they aim at surprise to keep their playmates’ attention.  A choo-choo train falling from the sky, a dragon poo-pooing on a house till it collapses, keep kids engaged and exploring together. 

 

CHAPTER 13: FICTION AS ADAPTATION . . .      PAGE 188

188 – Fiction, inventing events, presents a difficult problem.

 

1)     We need to see fiction as an art - that emerges later than other arts – dance music, and the first visual arts – before we can make up stories. 

2)     We need to see the novelty of fiction. 

 

190 – What biological functions does fiction have?

 

It allows us to refine key cognitive capacities.

 

191 – Just as girls enjoy pretend play with dolls, female primates find babies, the younger the better, fascinating; those who have not yet had babies are especially interested; and those who don’t play at this are poorer mothers.

 

Surgeons are better if they play video games.

 

Apart from immediate danger, nothing captures our attention like the actions of others around us. 

 

193 – It keeps strategic info flowing at a much more rapid pace than normal events in real life.  It provides examples of a wide range.

 

195 – Males have a higher need to earn status.  Men are better represented at the extremes of genius and failure – crime, drug dependency, mental illness.  Males are more storytellers and outnumber women in autism 4 to 1.    But, women are the principle story tellers to their children.  They tell of evil stepmothers.

 

196 – Through appeals to the moral and social emotions fiction helps cooperation.  It also arouses punishment emotions and indignation.  It helps us create counterfactuals.

 

199 – Religion makes for in group cohesion.

 

201 – All storytellers can earn status.  But those whose stories promised an apparently deeper explanation for what happened, and reducing future uncertainties, earn higher status.   

 

203 – Science is tested.  We look for explanations that seem to fit, cause that works in real time (ie; religion) and so has stopping rules.   Since it pays to detect patterns and to recognize recurrence, we also have confirmation bias.  We welcome confirmation and shun falsifying evidence. 

 

204 – Religious convictions derive less from doctrine than from story.  We rarely have full exposition of doctrine; we tell stories. 

 

205 – Invisible beings increase good behavior over selfish behavior.    In such a situation, evolution will favor believing a falsehood.

 

206 – Our predisposition to fiction has served different functions at different stages of cultural evolution.   From the start it has helped cognition.  But for much of human history, it has been commandeered by the apparent promise of expolanation, cohesion, conformity, and control, that has hardened into mythological and religious belief. 

 

207 – Such stories are low cost and high benefit to society.  We have stories of low cost and high immediate benefit for tellers and audiences, like jokes, that act as social lubricant.    We have stories of high cost and high immediate benefit, as in screen and print fiction.  And stories of high sost and high benefit cause us to reconsider what it is to be human. 

 

BOOK TWO

FROM ZEUS TO SEUSS: ORIGINS OF STORIES . . . PAGE 209

 

210 – We don’t even need to believe stories serve an evolutionary purpose, we just need to know that evolution has shaped our bodies and mind. 

 

Evolution will be worth the detour only if it deepens our evolution of language. 

 

The upcoming chapters will focus on attention, intelligence and cooperation. 

 

Part 4 introduces character, plot, structure, dramatic irony, and theme.

 

It also aims to:

 

1)     Show the sophistication of thought and art close to the origin of stories.

2)     To  show how it laid the basis for philosophy and science;

3)     To show the link between problems of historical knowledge, human nature and story.

4)     To demonstrate the problem-solution model Gombrich popularized.

5)     To show arts power relies on individuals and traditions..

6)     To show that classics are especially concentrated in patterns.

 

PART FIVE – Seuss shows the relation between the universal, local, and individual.

 

PART 4

PHLOGENY: THE ODYSSEY

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CHAPTER 14 EARLY ATTENTION (1) : NATURAL PATTERNS : CHARACTER AND PLOT . . .  PAGE 215

 

217 – In the Iliad the gods bicker and both sides lose from divine intervention.  In the Odyssey all the gods, except Poseidon back Odysseus.  In the Odyssey we expect clean victory.  The Iliad has no clear-cut moral lines, no winners and many losers.

 

The plays seem to have come from different minds.

 

218 – Perhaps this is because a patron wanted a different hero.

 

219 – Homer needs to catch his audiences attention from the beginning.  And, it is still a classic (despite the idea that men get the women they want via force) because human nature is much the same.  The book gives high content social information.

 

220 – He told listeners that if you’re a Greek, this concerns you.

 

221 – The stories focus on males of high status.

 

222 – The structure of each story magnifies the hero; we hear the story of the Trojan horse three times and each is more dramatic.

 

223 – The setting in war and unusual creatures make the story interesting.  Though only 1/6th focuses on his wandering.   

 

Though there is variety, unity comes via focusing on the protagonists’ goals.

 

225 – We have here attachment of parent to child and wife, an oxctocin driven narrative.  Rather than stay with the sexy goddess and have immortality, he returns to the familiarity of home. We need security, like a Harlow monkey.

 

226 – He is an ideal of mate selection; tempted, he comes back after 20 years.

 

228 – Revenge is key.  And suspense. We prefer positive emotions, but the negative emotions, like fear and anger, are more powerful.  We need to avoid being eaten more than we need to eat.  Hmnn. 

 

230 – Storytellers need to balance cost and gain.  There are characters and plot, but also good and bad are simplified: there are only two types of characters.  The Iliad messes this up.

 

231 – But, as we’ll see, his strength also comes from Odysseus finding so many ingenious solutions.

 

CHAPTER 15: EARNING ATTENTION (2): OPEN-ENDED PATTERNS: IRONIES OF STRUCTURE . . . PAGE 232

 

232 – Nature has shaped our ultrasocial selves to attend to character and event in life story. 

 

Literary criticism tends to look at themes or ideologies (recently).  But art needs attention before they “mean.”  They overlook the mechanisms and art of getting attention. 

 

235 – Patterns and irony help get attention. This can be seen without evolutionary thought.  But, it is richer with it.

 

236 – Homer adds to tradition by taking the major war and telling odd moments in them. The irony is that it is a war against the Trojans, but he tells mostly of Greek against Greek. 

 

237 – Also the war is to recover Helen, taken from Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, but Agamemnon takes Achilles’ woman with no compunction.  And, ironically, the war ends, not with Achilles’ reconciling with Agamemnon, but with Priam.

 

238 – And then Agamemnon is killed by his wife’s lover! 

 

239 – Odysseus is fighting over a woman again, his own wife.

 

The Iliad ends in stalemate; Odyssey ends in defeat.  Both heroes are present by their absence.

 

241 – Odysseus isn’t in the first 4 books, though the proem (pre-poem) is about him.  But he is referred to 29 times, so our appetite is whetted.

 

244 – Each narrative part in the Odyssey is broken into pieces that respect the audiences attention span, with a new scene and strategy.

 

245 – In book one, the suitors won’t leave Penelope.  In book 2, Odysseus is unable to leave the home of a goddess. 

 

247 – Athena has promised Odysseus’ homecoming, but he does not know this.  Doubt and faith come into play.

 

249 – For tension, Homer keeps alive hopes of Odysseus marrying Nausikaa.  This is done by his needlessly hiding his identity.   

 

250 – Her being a temptation reinforces Odysseus’ resolve. 

 

253 – These ironies and temptations and tension built around the resolve are attention maintaining devices. 

 

254 – Literature is play with pattern.  The patterns herein are: goal, action, obstacle, and outcome.  The ironies previously discussed are patterns that make us savor repeated readings.   Meaning deserves discussion, but so too do attention strategies.

 

CHAPTER 16: THE EVOLUTION OF INTELLIGENCE (1): IN THE HERE AND NOW . . . PAGE 255

 

255 – He starts by attacking Julian Jaynes idea that Homer’s characters don’t think like us.  He will argue, that Homer does see, show, and appeal to the mind.  And, not only encapsulates, but even advances the growth of intelligence.

 

Homer does not have precise mental terms; he does tend to express them in external fashion via actions; he does show human actions as being prompted by the gods. 

 

257 – We must look at what Homer shows in his characters and expects in his audiences.

 

Animals too think in terms of desires and intentions.   This is the mode for Homer’s characters too.

 

258 – Characters come to decisions in formulaic ways of considering options A, b and c. 

 

259 – This requires stopping the automatic responses – in the stream of consciousness – and holding options in mind.

 

260 – He has to not blind the Cyclops (because he’ll block the exit) and then wait for a plan b to occur. 

 

261 – Homer presents this and the Trojan horse as paradigmatic examples of Odysseus’ smarts.  But Odysseus taunts the Cyclops, in anger that he fails to control, thus brings the wrath of the Cyclops’s dad, Poseidon. 

 

263 – The proem of the Odyssey only features a moment in which his followers cannot control their desires, kill cattle, and so die.  

 

264 – They do so despite several warnings, while Odysseus sleeps.  While Odysseus does not always control his impulses, his men never do.

 

266 – Though Greeks are always proud and ready to fight, Odysseus suffers insults when dressed as a beggar in patience.

 

267 – In staving off suitors, Penelope also inhibits.  Homer does this inhibit impulses motif well.

 

CHAPTER 17: THE EVOLUTION OF INTELLIGENCE (2): BEYOND THE HERE AND NOW . . . PAGE 269

 

269 – Only in their 4th year do kids begin to have truly metarepresentational minds, which allow them to understand readily, past ,present, and future; real pretend, supposed or counterfactual; and the perspectives of others and even their own past.

 

273 – The revealing of Odysseus’ scar, wherein the maid remembers her raising of Odysseus, shows Homer creates multiple perspectives, present, past future possible, etc. 

 

274 – There is a lot of deception, trust is low in Odysseus’ world.   Nature does deceit in camouflage, bluff and mimicry.   In other animals real deceit is rare and involves holding back information. 

 

276 – Odysseus lies to Athena.  And, she herself is an arch deceiver (277).

 

278 – Athena disguises Odysseus as a beggar.  And, the audience knows more than Odysseus, who has common information revealed to him – like the death of Agamemnon. 

 

279 – Odysseus is the wisest and Homer builds the audiences joy at knowing even more than him.

 

281 – Though Odysseus does not, we know the whole of the story.  

 

282 – Greek Gods too work on a belief-desire-intention psychology. These gods don’t eliminate human causes, but supplement them. 

 

283 – Sometimes Greek Gods do not know what others know, what they did not hear.

 

284 – We are anticipation machines. We see explanations in science now.  But religion helps us with anticipations of our death.   Many think Odysseus dead when he is gone.

 

CHAPTER 18: THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION (1): EXPANDING THE CIRCLE . . . PAGE 287

 

287 – The extreme situations of Odysseus get our attention.  But they also allow Homer to explore solitude and society, competition and cooperation in fundamental ways.

 

288 – At 1 ½ children note violations of rules.  At 3 they are on the lookout for violations of social rules – particularly, “permissions, obligations, prohibitions, promises, and warnings.”

 

Social emotions are even in the worm C. elegans, which has 302 neurons.  Empathy, fairness, punishment and reconciliation are in many species – especially social primates. 

 

289 – Cooperation is in many species, but it is difficult to evolve.   It begins, likely, in defense.  Then it depends on emotions of comfort and pleasure in the company of conspecifics and distress at being away from them.

 

289 – Odysseus is comfortable, but away from his place and family. 

 

290 – Odysseus is at the top of the hierarchy, but absent. Hierarchy creates order.

 

292 – Bypassing workers of decades, Odysseus trusts his son, who he last saw as an infant, and compares this bond to other animals’ bonds.

 

294 – Greek city-states were big enough that reciprocal altruism might not get repaid.

 

295 – The cultural invention of Xenia, hospitality, fills this gap.  It extends reciprocal altruism beyond its natural limits.

 

296 – Paris violates xenia as well as fidelity when he takes Paris.  The Cyclops also violates xenia.

 

302 – In this world of plundering, offering xenia, in excess of what the person wanted, also appeased them before they just took all that they could. This is important in a world of low trust. 

 

Xenia is also a reaction against aristocratic dominance.  People should take what they are offered as guests and leaders must take care of their people.

 

CHAPTER 19: THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION (2): PUNISHMENT . . . PAGE 303

 

303 – While xenia extends the scope of reciprocal altruism, there is the free rider problem.  Penelope’s suitors personify this.

 

From Chimpanzee politics to the Mahabharata, to Nordic saga, younger generations challenging older one’s power is a theme.   Young gathered males are seen as a threat to order in the Iliad and Odyssey too.

 

304 – The suitors denigrate lower level folks and violate xenia threatening their host’s woman.

 

305 – The social emotion of anger backs Odysseus.

 

306 – Revenge reestablishes Odysseus’ honor and social order.

 

307 – The suitors are “shameless.”  Their success at rudeness even calls into question the justice of the gods (who enforce cooperative norms).

 

309 – Ritual sacrifice and costly signaling.

 

311 – Is the killing of the suitors justified?  We see little violence from them – throwing a foot stool.

 

312- But in Homer’s time, without courts, revenge and justice depended on people’s willingness to step up and enforce it.  

 

313 – The families of the slaughtered suitors come to fight Odysseus, but the gods intervene and stop the beginning of this cycle of violence.

 

314 – To motivate the costs of punishment, we must punish non-punishers. 

 

315 – Three endings: Penelope recognizes Odysseus; the confrontation of the suitors; and the aftermath of the slaughter.

 

The poem close stresses the difficulty of ensuring cooperation; the costliness of the failure to punish and the difficulty of reconciliation.   It also shows proper hierarchy restored.

 

316 – With its appeal to revenge and order, it appeals to us today.

 

 

PART 5

ONTOGENY: HORTON HEARS A WHO!

CHAPTER 20: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS: WORKING AT PLAY . . . PAGE 321

 

322 – He will explain Dr. Seuss at the universal, local, and individual level, as well as the particular.

 

Horton came from seeing Japanese vote for the first time in 1953.  But the work transcends 1953.

 

324 – Organisms are problem solvers. Species are integrated systems of specific solutions – developmental patterns, organs, behaviors.

 

Sexual reproduction solves the problem of unpredictability by providing variation.  Mind’s flexible behaviors meet variety too.  Minds predict the near future.  Sociability pools capacities.  “Culture solves the problem of making available to the whole group behavioral solutions more responsive to novel circumstances than genetic evolution can offer.”

 

Play solves the problem that organisms need to learn flexible behaviors.

 

325 – We asses our individual capacities in comparison with others. Twin studies show personality is 9 % genetic.  Most comes from the “status system” the search for self-knowleedge in the social cues provided by others – within each of us.    We seek unoccupied niches in which to get status.

 

Art is one such niche.

 

327 – Some Suess fun comes from messing with the infant categories of different and same.  Two folk, one beard.  23 sons named Dave. 

 

329 - At 3 kids look for function.  He has many handed machines and stars on stars off machines.

 

He largely leaves theory of mind alone.

 

We remember that which crosses ontological boundaries.  Spider man. 

 

330 – None of his animals have bones or balance, and they’re all people.

 

331 – Surprise produces laughter in play. 

 

332 – By the 1930s he was developing verbal play. Traditional verse around the world the need to focus and refocus attention has led to rhythm and to line-lengths of around 3 seconds.  

 

CHAPTER 21: LEVELS OF EXPLANATION: UNIVERSAL, LOCAL, AND INDIVIDUAL . . . PAGE 334

 

334 – Seuss honing work to appeal to audiences seems obvious. 

 

335 – But local explanations have ruled Critique for some time.  Minear has criticized Seuss as racist, sexist, anti-gay.

 

336 – Seuss wrote military films MacArthur considered to pro-Jap. 

 

337 – Menand saw the Cat in the Hat as a reflection of Cold War hypocrisy. But is hypocrisy a 1950s consideration or eternal?

 

339 – Menand said “Culture . . . is constitutive of species identity.” But local and difference are not all.   A 19th century novel is not, though, a report on the 19th century.

 

341 – Ernst Gombrich’s art books took human nature to be the same across the ages and so old art speaks to us.

 

CHAPTER 22: LEVELS OF EXPLANATION: INDIVIDUALITY AGAIN . . . PAGE 348

 

348 – In 1968 Barthes declared the ‘death of the author.’  But biology has established more securely than ever the fact and depth of individuality.

 

Sexual reproduction aims at variety.

 

349 – Even identical twins raised in the same house are different.

 

Individuality is no late Western invention, but a biological and psychological fact.   Chimps have individual personalities.

 

350 – Theories dismissal of the author is odd because we engage so naturally with particular artistic personalities.

 

351 – Genius exists too.

 

First order Darwinism: Life generates new combinations.  Second order: systems that generate diversity; like the human immune system. Third order: our ideas and their manifestations. 

 

353 – Geisel reworked and polished his ideas obsessively.   Seuss found his niche and worked it.  And, he tested ideas and only kept those that clicked.  

 

356 – So within life, within variety producing, Seuss emerged, found his niche, and spun varieties therein to find a solution.   This is individuality explained.

 

CHAPTER 23: LEVELS OF EXPLANATION: PARTICULAR . . . PAGE 358

 

360 – From the first he works to gain attention and minimize costs of comprehension.  Horton’s goal of protecting a whole people is clear.  The differences among the animal species simplify character make them easy to distinguish. 

 

361 – Each 2-page spread moves the narrative visually and verbally.

 

362 – One page demonstrates how emotion directs attention and how repetition makes easy consumption.

 

364 – He shows how the direction of the page focuses attention.  Horton cannot be too big, so in every page another animal’s eye level is above his.

 

365 - Repeating characters and similar names helps comprehension.

 

CHAPTER 24: MEANINGS . . . PAGE 368

 

369 – By monitoring the actions of others, animals learn who to challenge and when not to.   This involves character and plot.

 

Events just happen, stories are particular events worth the audience’s attention.

 

370 – Often we know why an individual is telling a story.  We are less sure when it is for a general audience.

 

371 – Publishers rejected Seuss because they could find no “moral or message’  . . . nothing aimed at transforming children into good citizens.”   Later he would say it is impossible to tell a story without some good guys and some bad guys. And either the good guys or bad guys win.  Therein is the moral.

 

372 – Horton repeats “a person’s a person, no matter how small.’ 4 times.  Vegetarians will read it differently than meat eaters.

 

374 – We admire Horton’s courage and willingness to help. So it strengthens morals.

 

376 – Horton also helps the strength of their imaginations.

 

377 – The Odyssey plays with false belief, here too that there are no creatures on the dust speck.

 

378 – Horton improves social cognition, encourages cooperation, and fosters the imagination.   

 

CONCLUSION

RETROSPECT AND PROSPECTS: EVOLUTION, LITERATURE, CRITICISM . . . PAGE 380

 

380 – There have been a number of key ideas throughout this book:

       - Evolution generates problems and solutions at multiple levels; individual, cultural, via adaptations, invention, variation, selective retention.

-           Art is an adaptation that comes from cognitive play.

-           It explains storytelling as a phenomenon.

 

382 - Storytelling appeals to our social intelligence.

Among cultural inventions that bond groups are “shared design, music, dance and story; tattoos, anthems, legends and more.

 

- Explanation: including the local thing represented; problem solution model;

 

What are the prospects for seeing storytelling as a human adaptation?

 

Theory has isolated literary criticism from the rest of academia. 

 

He wants to call it ‘evocriticism.’  It can generate hypothesis and see literature as a repository of human experience.   It can ground literature in earth instead of just gods or the lack thereof.   It can teach us to  read below the surface of stories. 

 

387 – He doesn’t like the term literary Darwinism, because it stresses one guy too much.  He likes ‘evolution’ as a broader term.

 

389 – Ecocriticism, he hopes to have demonstrated, need not be reductive and can be expansive.    It can be more sensitive than others to artistic detail and design.  

 

It does not subvert common sensicle readings and can be informed by history. 

 

391 – Evocriticism should not impose a template.   It also explains the critical experience, we like shared attention and learning from others, so we like to discuss works of art.

 

392 – ATTENTION is important to all literature, art, and story.  Attention can explain the design features of a story.  (info, cognitive order cannot). 

 

Attention can explain the social effects of art. It gives artists and their stories status.

 

It explains artistic kinds (whose attention does it get)?

 

Attention is a guide to appreciation and evaluation. 

 

396 – We can see authors as problem-solvers with individual capacities and preferences making strategic choices within particular situations. What problems and situations did the author face?

 

397 – “Evolutionary literary criticism offers no set questions, let alone set answers. It requires simply a readiness to accept that humans evolved and a commitment to empirical research to find out just what we are and why.”

 

[If art is an adaptation, and we want consilience, it also asks us how we can apply art].

 

AFTERWORD: EVOLUTION, ART, STORY, PURPOSE    . . . PAGE 399

 

399 - Does evolution rob life of a sense of purpose?

 

No.  It helps us understand how purpose, like life, builds from small beginnings, from the ground up.    Art too helps us solve problems.

 

401 – There is no purpose initially, but it evolves over time. [survival].

 

403 – Intelligence emerged, creativity came from that.  Creativity is not important to evolution, it is happy with amoebas. 

 

405 – Just as natural selection has evolved  sex as a means for amplifying genetic variation, he suggests, it has evolved art in humans, first to sharpen minds eager for pattern, but then for creativity, for amplifying the variety of behavior.

 

406 – Creativity generates possibilities that may eventually solve problems. And it does so by creating solutions, artistic visions, that are appealing to humans.

 

407 – Art has usually been communal and active.  We still dance and sing in cities. Viewing art is usually public and involves public attention.  This goes from mothers with children to watching films together.  “Modern art like film makingall depend on the existence of shared norms to provide prompts and challenges.”

 

408 – Art is uniquely well designed to produce variations; it is not well designed to generate useful ideas.   Facial markings serve no immediate purpose . They may, though, give the wearer more status and create followers and group bonding.

 

409 – Creativity seems to have become increasingly a purpose of art.  At first this was not a goal.   Odysseus is more traditional, Seuss more creative.

 

411 – “Evolution does not aim at creativity.  It aims at nothing.”  [WRONG it aims at propagating you and your kind.]  But purpose has emerged and creativity seems to be the purpose. [So social bonding has been tossed as a goal].

 

Science produces ideas and winnows them.  Art too.  Science thereby builds on only the most rigorously selected ideas.  Art appeals to our species preferences. 

 

412 – Knowledge doesn’t accumulate in art as it does in the sciences. But, it generates creativity.  It makes us realize we can vary what we are given and not accept things as they are, we can make counterfactuals.

 

Religion too evolved and was aided by storytelling, and it grabbed our attention and solved problems of cooperation, by suggesting that we’re constantly watched over, it allays our fears.

 

414 – Religion and power commandeered art for millennia.  Only with science did art and religion split.

 

In the last words, life’s purpose used to stabilize life and replicate it.  Then to sustain that complex life.  New ways of offered hedges against loss, sex and its variety helped.  Still richer purposes emerged with emotions, intelligence, cooperation and even creativity itself.

 

Art at its best offers durability that was life’s first purpose, the variety that became its second, the intelligence and social emotions that took longer to evolve, and creativity that keeps adding new possibilities (including religion and science)  We do not know a purpose guaranteed life from outside itself.  But we can add to the creativity of life.  We don’t know what other purposes might emerge, but creativity is the best way of reaching them.