What’s unique about human beings? Not tool-making, not language, not solving physics problems. Storytelling.
It’s Think Week in Oxford. A week’s worth of challenging (and free) events. The one that might be of most interest to readers of this blog was a lecture by Gregory Currie, Professor of Philosophy at York:’The Human Mind and the Purpose of Storytelling’. Why, he asked, do we spend so much time thinking about things we know didn’t and won’t ever happen, and about people we know do not exist? He explored various hypotheses. Research apparently does not support the view that fiction increases our empathy for others, except temporarily; nor does pretend play have any obvious benefit for children. Professor Currie suggested that storytelling might be a side product of imagination, which has evident evolutionary value.
Taking on a philosopher is not something I am qualified to do, but I summoned up my courage and asked whether there aren’t – in ‘good or ‘great’ literature – important truths wrapped in the made-up plot. But he didn’t take my meaning and answered that of course there are truths in stories, things that we take for granted, e.g. people having a head and two legs. I got bit grumpy after that.
Last night we had Professor AC Grayling, one of the best lecturers in existence, I think. He talked of Greek myths and fairy stories and the philosophical insights they provide, reflecting humankind’s earliest reflections on life, the universe and everything.
When challenged by an Imam regarding ‘the important questions’, Professor Grayling gave in reply a deeply moving, lucid and inspiring account of Humanism.
Now I am trying to refocus my rather tired mind on my writing tasks. First of all, there’s a story for our storytelling club (5 minutes, no notes and true) on the theme ‘Relations’. See our website if interested in joining us. http://www.sharkspark.org.uk
And of course my second novel, which is proving a lot more fun to write than the first.
And deciding what to wear at the Exeter Novel Prize Awards – not till late March, but these things are important. I want to look mature, but not old – a fine line!