Jonathan Gottschall


On his book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Cover Interview of April 15, 2012


This book uses insights from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to try to understand the storytelling instinct.  I am aware that the very idea of bringing science—with its sleek machines, its cold statistics, its unlovely jargon—into Storyland makes many people nervous.  Fictions, fantasies, dreams—these are, to the humanistic imagination, a kind of sacred preserve.  They are the last bastion of magic.  They are the one place where science cannot—should not—penetrate, reducing ancient mysteries to electro-chemical storms in the brain or the timeless warfare among selfish genes.  The fear is that if you explain the power of Neverland, you may end up explaining it away.  As Wordsworth said, you have to murder in order to dissect.

But I disagree.  Science adds to wonder, it doesn’t dissolve it.  Scientists always report that the more they discover, the more lovely and mysterious things become.  As the great novelist and distinguished lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov once put it, “The greater one’s science, the deeper the sense of mystery.”  That’s certainly what I found in my own research.  The whole experience left me in awe of Homo fictus—the beast who lives in fiction.