The Literary Animal:  Evolution and the Nature of Narrative


Edited by Jonathan Gottschall

and David Sloan Wilson


Forewords by E. O. Wilson and Frederick Crews


Northwestern University Press

Evanston, Illinois



E. O. Wilson

Forward from the Scientific Side vii


Vii – Nice wording.  Literary Darwinism’s truths remain “mostly undiscovered.” 

[This allows for play and conjecture..  We are not making miniscule refinements. We are playing in near open fields.  Others with a more autistic temperament can verify, meticulously . Personally I enjoy erring on the side of imagination.”

That can go for application as well.  Positive culturist films can be bad comedies.  We needn’t be too serious.


“No blood, no foul” Hearn used to say.


Ix  “The mind is a narrative machine, guided unconsciously by the epigenetic rules in creating scenarios and creating options.  The narratives and artifacts that prove most innately satisfying spread and become culture.” 

[I think this is too individualistic. What pleases individuals may well spread.  But, what helps groups survive is the ultimate].


Foreword from the Literary Side  xiii



The author of the forward has poked fun at literary Darwinism.

Xiv  For three decades literary criticism has, though, been warped by cynicism towards evidence.

So he welcomes the field’s often hair-brained empiricism.

Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson

Introduction: Literature – A Last Frontier in Human Evolutionary Studies xvii


- Jon’s Intro

Jon read the Naked Ape and was fascinated.  His attempt to apply it to the Iliad was so thoroughly rejected that he had to put scientists on his doctoral committee.


He found all talk of biology made his professors think of him as Hitler.


- David Sloan Wilson (DSW’s) Intro

DSW was on his doctoral committee. DS Wilson’s dad wrote the man in the grey flannel suit.


In Japan he found the literature very understandable.  So he was convinced that we must all be the same. The book had affairs in it.


- Joint Intro:

Three themes 1) What is literature about?  Survival and reproduction are on the minds of all.


2) What is literature for?  Maybe nothing. “It could have a profound effect on how we think and act through psychological and cultural processes in which the role of the genes is remote.”  Maybe sexual selection.   [WEAK! Perhaps directly impacts genes via allowing for their survival].


3) What does this mean for literary criticism?




Ian McEwan

Literature, Science, and Human Nature PAGE 5 


5 – 6 Darwin achieved the hard task of being a great scientist and writer.   He sailed on December 27th, 1831.   He described people naturalistically via their muscular structure.


10 – Darwin was anti-racist.  We are descended from common stock.  Our differences are “in many cases literally skin deep.”  Then he quotes Darwin to say “All the chief expressions exhibited by man are the same through out the world.”


11 – We understand remote time and geographical literature because we’re all the same. [So human biodiversity is a wall past which LD will not crawl}.


12 – We cannot point to a date in which human character changed.  [So there is nothing new and we’re studying one creature without variation]. 


13 – French historian Philippe Aries thought love for children started in the 18th century. 


People want to find the root of modernity and put it everywhere from the Garden of Eden expulsion to Hamlet, to the scientific revolution and the making of mass media.


14 – But this view is long and biological not short and cultural like the Standard Social Science Model.


15 – John Watson’s proclamation about shaping people is just as Orwellian as racial supremacy theories of biologists.


16 – “The Third Reich cast a long shadow over free scientific inquiry in the decades after the Second World War. Various branches of psychology were trapped by intellectual fear, deterred by recent history from considering the mind as a biological product of adaptive forces, even while, in nearby biology departments . . . “ molecular biology and Darwinism were creating the modern synthesis.


17 – Donald Brown’s Human Universals. 


18- Penelope’s waiting for Odysseus to come home is still very understandable.



David Sloan Wilson

Evolutionary Social Constructivism  PAGE 20


20 – Social constructionists versus sociobiologists.


Three Evolutionary positions (E) and Two social constructivist positions (S).  He will show that the views are compatible.


E1.  Evolutionary Psychology (EP) view sex differences and sexual relations are adaptive.  We are determined by Paleolithic programming.

E2. Whereas antigens do “blind variation and selective retention,’ (Donald Campbell) narratives do the same in fitting us to our environment.

E3. Literature is a form of play that got dragged along into culture.  This means narrative is not totally adaptive.


22 –


S1 Individuals and societies have enormous flexibility, largely unconstrained by biology. 

S2.  Individuals and societies have enormous flexibility, totally unconstrained by biology.


Can we mesh s1 and E1, E2, and E3?


Well E1 allows for S1.  Both share “phenotypic plasticity.”


30 – Jerome Bruner’s book, Law Literature, Life says diaries increase health.


33 – In Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral, he shows how religions around the world and throughout history have bound human groups into corporate units (2002 revised). 


The very word ‘religion’ is derived from the Latin “religio,” which means to bind together.  And, he notices how Pagel notes that early Christian writings concerned the practicality of making communities.


Dylan Evans

From Lacan to Darwin  PAGE 38


This is the story of a deep Lacanian scholar who got totally disillusioned with its lack of clarity, cohesion, and falsibiability.  Then he found that it was flat-out wrong in some instances.  So he converted to Darwinism.


49 – “Culturalist” is used to indicate the standard social science model wherein all is a cultural construct.


Daniel Nettle

What happens in Hamlet? Exploring the Psychological Foundations of Drama PAGE 56


56 – In 1999 the average Briton spent 369 hours immersed in some kind of dramatic performance (tv, cinema, or theater).  That is roughly 6 % of all waking life.  Why?


58 – In West Africa there is a big distinction between maternal and paternal uncles.


60 – Nettle attacks historicism that sees Shakespeare as only popular because he became popular at the beginning of the colonial period and represents elitism and justifies such imperialism. 


Why not Ben Johnson then?


[I must defer that this bonding a culture and giving pride function is very Darwinistic and should not be too quickly dismissed.]


62 – The Darwinian answer to the “why” of literature comes down to “who benefits?” 

On the one hand, we have answers where the individual benefits, ie Geoffrey Miller and sexual selection.  David Wilson Sloan has says lit transmits and coordinates locally appropriate behavior norms, these directly benefit individuals and the group indirectly. 

On the other hand, we have “viruses of the mind.”  Good stories get themselves transmitted regardless of the impact on the bearer.


Nettle says it is too early to adjudicate between these two types yet. 


67 – Plots Dunbar predicts:

-           convey info about small tight knit groups.

-           Interacting in cliques

-           Protagonists should enhance their biological fitness

-           Involve the extremes of mating and death for maximum attention

-           Conflict

-           Mate choice and status competition should be areas of special interest

It does



Joseph Carroll

Human Nature and Literary Meaning: A Theoretical Model Illustrated with a Critique of Pride and Prejudice PAGE 76


77 – 5 necessary components of a competent LD analytic concept:

1)     Human nature as structured hierarchy of motives.

2)     “Point of view.” Of the location of meaning within three centers of consciousness (the author, characters, and audience).

3)     The use of human universals

4)     Categories for analyzing  individual differences in identity

5)     The distribution of meaning into 3 dimensions: theme (conceptual content), tone (emotional coloring) and formal organization (word choice to plot).


Darwinian psychology has hit a dead end in its deprecation of individual differences and its ignoring of general – domain intelligence. 


85 – The seven emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, contempt, and surprise.


92 – No culture can deviate from human universals (by definition), but many individual people can and do deviate from species-typical norms of behavior.


[Carroll’s is a legitimate critique. We often cannot see individual differences in characters, narrators and audience in our work.  But, I would also ask that we take more of a group selection purpose.  We constantly look for the EP impact of individual decisions.  What of their decisions on the group?]


92 – Even if you don’t have kids, literary authors can depend on readers to feel the value of maternal care and horror at infanticide.


94 – Every critic needs a) a concept of human nature. b) a concept of the cultural ecology within which any given text has been constructed and c) a set of categories for analyzing individual differences. 


104 – If you don’t compare book-to-book and author-to-author, you may be a Darwinian, but you’re not a literary critic.


[Thoughts on Carroll – He is conservative and needs to admit it.  We also can / should use “mustem”? as a moral teaching tool. ]



Marcus Nordlund

The Problem of Romantic Love: Shakespeare and Evolutionary Psychology  PAGE 107


109 – People eat different things, they eat in different ways, at different times, with different utensils and in differing amounts, but they all eat.  This is a variation on a universal theme.


111 – Some have argued that romantic love is a western invention of the 1300s.  Nordlund shows it not to be.  Courtly love took a universal human potential, invested it with social significance in a normative framework.


Courtly love is a tug-of-war between evolved needs and cultural constraints that produce an ideal that works with the culture’s official system of belief.


114 - Romantic love appears in 88.5 percent of the 166 cultures studied. 


115 – [Nice culturist quote]: We recognize the conflict between male adultery tendencies and the 4-year-itch.  People say that is being true to human nature.  “Western culture is currently engaged in a social experiment where individual desires – including the desire to leave your partner and start afresh – are given relatively  free rein because our social organization permits this. From this perspective, Western culture is not being true to human nature: it is being true to the individual, and that is clearly not the same thing.”


116 – Liberal dogma is a true irony.


Robin Fox Male Bonding in the Epics and Romances

PAGE 126 –


126 – Incidentally, this article on male bonding shows the primacy of warfare in early narrative. 


Trivers found that the male bonding comes into full flower with the development of hunting and warfare in the Upper Paleolithic (when modern humans were formed).


This necessarily required female exclusion. But, reproduction requires a male / female bond – so we have a conflict.


127 – Chimpanzees are not too reliant upon meat.  Still, they form cooperative male bands, which are exclusive of females much of the year, while they carry out raids on other such bands.


The story focuses on the theme of heterosexual sex as a threat to male bonding.


128 – Thus we can expect that once literature came into effect, the theme of male bonding would be present.   He now looks at Gilamesh, (the earliest known written epic) a story from 2700 bc.


The The cattle raid of Cooley is from Ireland around the time of Christ.   He also looks at Beowulf (a 7th to 10th century poem that was written in England but takes place in Denmark and southern Sweden).  The Iliad and the Arthurian tales. The song of Roland too. And the Nordic tale with the Niblungs.


142 - This bonding is a matter of life and death. “Males who bond will have allies they can trust.” 


143 – This is an odd type of reciprocal altruism.  It does not just apply to kin.  But, these not kin are assimilated into kin, they become ‘brothers.’


Women in said epics function either as supporters or challengers to the male bond.  Their role is in relation to it.   Men and women do not bond with each other much in it.


He asks if the male bonding would be as prominent in a less warlike society.  [Since primitive societies were all warlike, this is a moot point.]  He sees this in the Godfather and other modern films.



145 – What of the impact, Robin Fox, of the male bonding literature?  Also to look at the impact in Darwinian terms, we should look at the impact on young folks, because people died young.  Look at brain sciences and where the brain is at at peak battle time, the early twenties. Here we have very strong identification with groups.  My black flag tattoo for instance.  Let’s look at concert attendance.  This may not seem like literature, but it has words and literature had music back in the day.  My theory would guess that music is led by males who are slightly older than their audience and are deified.  Posters and tattoos can be said to be tokens of such “worship.”  Emotion versus rationality of words / lyrics is another interesting area to look at.  Songs getting stuck in our head and julian jaynes.  What would music / words have done for Paleolithic man?  


Think national anthem, flags as emblems. 


Julius Caesar in high school because Latin left . History of Education, Bernard Bailyn.


Again impact on audiences.


Rock n Roll defines my generation. It was as much a movement of clothes and jingles as it was rational reflection.  What is education for? Is a closely related question.  And one that prompts consilience. 


Lit should not be studied in isolation, with an imagined individual as a reader.  It is not just what 70 year old men do alone.  Again, my theories would predict that education and founding narratives are universal.  It would also predict that young males vehemence is at a peak – group selection would want this. 


Is literature proximal?  LD makes lit at some level , irrationally liked.  I agree.  Austen is important because it speaks to girls and mating.  YES.  And, it is desirable to deploy it.


Again, page 264, Wittgenstein countered.  Lit has application, we shouldn’t be so distant from application if we want understanding or consilience.


145 – The problem of art is the same as that of altruism. How do you explain something that takes so much time away from reproduction and survival? 

[But both art and altruism explain each other! Art helps reciprocal altruism  It makes sense in terms of constant battles.

Let’s be clear, this self-sacrifice is usually male and in war.]


146 – Herein we look at Boyd and Sugiyama.  As both answers are quite different they can’t both be correct!

Brian Boyd

Evolutionary Theories of Art PAGE 147

150   There are 4 main evolutionary theories of art:

                  1 – Art is not an adaption but a byproduct of evolution (Pinker)

                  2 – Art is not from natural selection, but sexual selection (Geoffrey Miller).

                  3 – 4  Art is an adaption, its chief function is social cohesion (Dissanayake) or individual mental organization (Tooby and Cosmides).


151 – 152 Boyd’s theory of art: Art is an adaption whose functions are shaping and sharing attention, and arising from that, fostering social cohesion and creativity.


Art can have, as an elephant’s trunk, several functions.  This is D S Wilson’s multilevel selection theory.   He says only Dissanayaka’s Art and Intimacy has explored the importance of attention.   This can be seen in the chimps and bonobos having contrast between the sclera and pupil and us having more. 


Chimps rarely communicate with their babies, but do respond to playing.   Newborns like faces.  5 year olds know what others think they think. 


Since animals gain more attention with status, attention makes for social cohesion.  153 “There is reason to think that on average societies with shared costume, song, dance, and heroic or admonitory story could coordinate better than those without.”


161 – Dissanayake summarized.  Art should be seen as an adaption because:

1.       It is universal

2.       It involves high commitment of time, resources, and energy

3.       It produces strong emotions, “emotion is evolution’s way of indicating importance.”

4.       It is associated with biologically significant activities (namely war).

5.       It develops reliably in all normal humans without training.


165 – But if religion binds, how can we ensure members are really committed? “costly signaling.”


Spiritual agents in the form of people are memorable attention getters.  And, if they can watch all the time, it helps cooperation. 


[He is relying on costly signaling theory, because weak signals are easily faked.  But, humans are programmed to receive – so to speak.  We absorb and become partial at warrior ages.]


166 – [But why does it take the form of art?  Costly.  This assumes that all is a public trick.  No.  We’re programmed for dance, stories and partiality].


166 – He says, even so, Coe and Dissanayake do not explain the origins of art.  [So, they explain its function in early man.  They were not there at the moment of inception.]  For that he should turn to Robin Dunbar on gossip. 


167 – Boyd claims that “Art has played a central function in human lives not only in itself but also in giving rise to religion and then reinforcing, through augmenting the impact of ritual, religion’s power to cement group cohesion. 

Yet if art can seem at its most powerful when tightly linked with religion and social cooperation, this does not mean that even in traditional societies art does not also persist in other ways closer to play or to trade than to ritual.”


172 – Science is studying laughter.  But that doesn’t mean it will make us laugh or end laughter.  Science will also explain narrative and story.  But this will not end story.  “If anything, it will only clarify why and how art matters so much.”


[It will reduce its magic too].


Michelle Scalise Sugiyama

Reverse – Engineering Narrative: Evidence of Special Design PAGE 177


177 – Story telling likely goes back to 100,000 bc.  As people paint their body between then and 120,000.bc.


Rather than look at art and think of its consequences like Dissanayake and Coe, Sugiyama wants to look at the senses involved in creating stories and art and build a theory from there.


179  - Art visual, music aural, rhythm – kinesthetic.  If something is beautiful it implies that it is one.  But, each sense is different.  The common truth is if something is beautiful, nature is saying it would be a good idea to pay attention to this.


180 – Story telling is largely aural and involves at least two people.


Stories consist of character, settings, actions, and events – linked temporally or / and causally – and conflict and resolution.  This is the grammar of storytelling.


These elements appear across cultures.


181 – When deployed without a verbal supplement, non-verbal arts have a hard time telling stories.


183 – But language and story are not the same thing.  Language exists.  But stories have a particular structure.


183 – As story notes, stories are made of events.  Actions are things characters do and events are things that happen to characters.


184 – Chimps and dolphins can reason, but they cannot tell stories.


185 – All stories are about humans or humanoid creatures.  “The function of character, then, is to illuminate the minds of our fellow human beings.”


Conflict is also essential.  Evidence shows that narrative passages without goals or outcomes or complications without resolution are poorly remembered.


186 – Stories are rooted in setting (time and space):  This include the temporal, the physical and the social.  Setting is not passive.  It acts upon characters.


The function of narrative would then appear to be the representation of the problems humans encounter in their lives and the constraints individuals struggle against in their efforts to solve them. 


[OK  but this is very individualistic.  And early stories are about Gods and bands of brothers .  This would point to group welding functions, not helping individuals meet their goals]. 


These are motivation guidance systems.  Tooby and Cosmides agree. 


[But then why not just tell people what the heck to do?]


187 – Info in stories is either universal or local. 


188 – She looks at a Yanamamo story that universally says beware of predators and locally identifies two.


189 – Children with autism lack TOM and so don’t play.  So theory of mind and story telling have a feedback loop.  They enhance eachother.


190 – This helps to store and transmit information.   And other forms transmit information less efficiently.





Jonathan Gottschall Quantitative Literary Study: A Modest Manifesto and Testing the Hypothesis of Feminist Fairy Tale Scholars PAGE 199


This chapter attacks feminist readings of fairy tales that say western fairy tales have no female protagonists and treat old women as evil and marginal and feature passive women.  European stories have the highest level of active female protagonists.  Till males are more.  51% of stories describe female attractiveness and only 21 % of male protagonists. All focus on marriage as an outcome.  More in Europe but in all.  And marriage is not more important for men than women in stories.  Yes.  It finds this is true, but it is true in all cultures. 


211 – A great rejoinder to Coe.  Gottschall’s chart shows that most art is about men, not mothers. 


219 – “Consistent patterns of sexual differentiation across various parameters of characterization are consistent with the new consensus across the human sciences that many aspects of gender previously considered products of arbitrary social conditioning are strongly influenced by biology and encountered across human cultures.” 


[This means that Literary Darwinism is conservative in some respects.]


Daniel J. Kruger, Maryanne Fisher, and Ian Jobling

Proper Hero Dads and Dark Hero Cads: Alternate Mating Strategies Exemplified in British Romantic Literature  PAGE 225



227 – Women are more likely to have affairs when ovulating and less likely to use birth control.


227 – Research shows that Dads and cads are distinct male mating strategies.


228 - “Polygynous societies are more competitive than monogamous ones because the more women one man impregnates, the fewer opportunities for other men.” [add to investigation of temper and polygamy.]


228 – “Cross-culturally, men from father-absent households favor a sexually promiscuous mating strategy and are more misogynistic and reluctant to engage in parental investment; they are also violent, aggressive, rebellious, high in risk-taking, and at high risk of incarceration.”


This means that cads is a personality characteristic taken in result to environmental factors.


228 – Women have different criteria for long and short term mates and these correspond to dads and cads.


229 – High dominance traits are correlated with promiscuity.  Upright bearing, move with ease and freedom, gaze at people fixedly and unashamedly, infringe on personal space, and smile less (as it’s a sign of appeasement). 


[LD is also conservative in a subtler way.  When we are aware of these two strategies, they may lose power over us.  Though I am not sure that Stella might not still have yielded.]


231 - The proper hero is monogamous and non-homocidal.


232 – They predict short liaisons with cads and long relationships with dads in literature.


They took samples describing both and asked 257 women which they’d like for a one night stand and which they would like for a father.


235 – Fearful and secure womnen both preferred the Dad type for long term relationships.  Fearful women were more likely to say they’d like a 1 night stand with cads.


237 – Yet, they would not want the cad for their daughter.  They could separate themselves and see it was a bad idea.   So they want genes for the current environment.


Catherine Salmon

Crossing the Abyss: Erotica and the Intersection of Evolutionary Psychology and Literary Studies  PAGE 244


Men like willing young women with no story.  Women like bonds of trust and romance and don’t highlight sex.  Men visual.  Women romance novels. 


Slash fiction is Spock and Kirk getting it on.  This is interesting as it is for women and by women.  This has the largest trust bond as Spock and Kirk trusted each other with no aim of sex.  And, the romance also requires trust. 


250 – Gay male porn runs the same trajectory as male porn generally.  So it is not to downgrade women.  That is just the male way, with a visible cum shot.


251- The states with the greatest gender inequality also have the lowest circulation of pornography.


In romance literature, however, the guy is not sensitive.  He is tall, older and muscular. Sexually bold, calm, confident, and intelligent.  Rich was not important.  Physical and social competense and love were more important.  Money is not so important as that would not have been so important in ancestral situations.


Denis Dutton Afterword PAGE 259

264 – Nice Wittgenstein quote, “Wittgenstein remarked that philosophy leaves everything as it is.  Everything, he might have added, except our understanding.   This however leaves out policy recommendations and consilience.  Nice way to end the Literary Animal.


[These theories of art / literary theory ignore the audience in a way.  They joy of being in an audience applauding.  This bonds.  To get the theory of art, we must ask too, of the impact.