Torben Grodal


On his book Embodied Visions: Evolution, Emotions, Culture, and Film

Cover Interview of August 21, 2009


Since the 1990s, a steady stream of books—e.g., The Adapted Mind, Affective Neuroscience, Religion Explained—have illuminated how we share most of our brain architecture with other mammals, especially with other primates.

Humans evolved in the Pleistocene savannas of East Africa, and our brains evolved to cope with the life conditions of hunters and gatherers, in conflict with animals and other humans. Thus, our fascination with, say, action films, and their scenarios of hiding, fighting, and exploring reflect old adaptations to hunter-gatherer life.

For several million years the human children became increasingly bigheaded; due to constraints of the birth canal they were therefore born “too early” and were helpless for much longer than other animal babies.  This created a resource problem, and human love developed so that the males could provide help bringing up baby.

This evolutionary angle also makes it vitally important to understand the role of culture.  Historical evidence shows that a radical development took place 50.000 years ago, when probably language was invented and our cultural development took off.  The expansion of our frontal brain ever since has made us more flexible.  Language and other media—like painting, storytelling, music, and later on drama, printed media, film, and electronic media—provided tools to sophisticate the way in which humans could implement those preferences that they had inherited from their ancestors.

Films provide scenarios for living through vital aspects of our lives—falling in love, dying, solving social conflicts by humor, confronting hostile others etc.  In Embodied Visions I explain how films reflect our universal embodied nature, and also how films negotiate new solutions to these problems.

© 2009 Torben Grodal