What can neuroscience tell us about novels, poems, and plays? Can fiction help us develop real-world cognitive skills? And can writers exploit our mental weaknesses—for our own good? These are some of the questions we'll be asking on this week’s show, “Your Brain on Literature.”
From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s puzzling that humans consume fiction. Why waste valuable cognitive resources on information we know is unreal? But it is even more puzzling that we argue about such fictions! I explore some reasons why we do this.
Think about the art you’ve enjoyed in your life: the novels, the television, the music, the poetry, the sculpture, the paintings—the list goes on. Now try to imagine a scenario in which none of this art had ever been made. What would we lose in a world like this?
For this month's puzzle, I'm focusing on the human ability to produce and consume fiction. Why do creatures evolved to survive in a harsh reality spend so much time, energy, and effort doing this? And why do we argue with one another about what “really” happened in these various fictional worlds?
When I’ve felt depressed or isolated in the past, fiction has been a source of escape and catharsis. But during this lockdown, I've been struggling with stories. I've been streaming less television, reading fewer novels, and watching fewer movies than ever before. I've got a case of "narrative burnout."