Young Jean Lee has said that she’s constantly experimenting with form to find the best way to attack her questions and anxieties about life. So it makes sense that to explore the thorny subjects of death, dying, and loss, she’d wrap her message in a series of seemingly ordinary stories. Storytelling and daydreams aren’t mere escapism — science backs up that the human brain is designed to lock into focus when listening to or watching a story and to engage in the action, even though we know a story is fiction. This is why we jump out of our seats watching a horror film or feel our pulses race along with the action when we watch an andrenaline-pumping scene in a film like Mad Max.
Jonathan Gotschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human, shares some of the science and psychology behind why stories hold us in their grip in this two-part series of articles. The first article, “The Science of Storytelling,” looks at how the brain chemistry changes when we listen a story, and the second, “Infecting An Audience,” examines how stories are used to convey important cultural messages and values.
Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning. Homo sapiens (wise man) is a pretty good definition for our species. But Homo fictus (fiction man) would be about as accurate. Man is the storytelling animal. — Jonathan Gottschall