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WIREs Cogn Sci
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The evolution of stories: from mimesis to language, from fact to fiction

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Why a species as successful as Homo sapiens should spend so much time in fiction, in telling one another stories that neither side believes, at first seems an evolutionary riddle. Because of the advantages of tracking and recombining true information, capacities for event comprehension, memory, imagination, and communication evolved in a range of animal species—yet even chimpanzees cannot communicate beyond the here and now. By Homo erectus, our forebears had reached an increasing dependence on one another, not least in sharing information in mimetic, prelinguistic ways. As Daniel Dor shows, the pressure to pool ever more information, even beyond currently shared experience, led to the invention of language. Language in turn swiftly unlocked efficient forms of narrative, allowing early humans to learn much more about their kind than they could experience at first hand, so that they could cooperate and compete better through understanding one another more fully. This changed the payoff of sociality for individuals and groups. But true narrative was still limited to what had already happened. Once the strong existing predisposition to play combined with existing capacities for event comprehension, memory, imagination, language, and narrative, we could begin to invent fiction, and to explore the full range of human possibilities in concentrated, engaging, memorable forms. First language, then narrative, then fiction, created niches that altered selection pressures, and made us ever more deeply dependent on knowing more about our kind and our risks and opportunities than we could discover through direct experience.

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Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition
Linguistics > Evolution of language
Neuroscience > Cognition

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