So the argument about the adaptiveness of stories, in Pinker, Gottschall, and Boyd alike, goes something like this: we are evolutionarily wired to be receptive to stories because receptiveness to stories gave our ancestors reproductive advantages. Those who could think narratively had a fund of virtual experience that they could use to anticipate problems, or to respond more constructively to them when they arrived unexpectedly. This led to longer lives and more offspring, offspring who inherited whatever cognitive equipment is associated with story-sensitivity, which over several thousand years produced our cultural environment, positively awash in every kind of narrative.

It is in light of this account that Gottschall affirms that “Story is the counterforce to social disorder, the tendency of things to fall apart. Story is the center without which the rest cannot hold.” As someone who has devoted much of his life to reading, teaching, and writing about stories, this account certainly captures my attention—but is it true? And how would we know if it is true? Presumably not all people love stories equally; some, I imagine, are quite indifferent to stories. Are those people less likely to pass along their genes than the story-lovers among us? Imagine a society made up almost wholly of story-disdainers: would such a society fail to thrive? How might we correlate love-of-story with other traits we today have inherited from our distant ancestors, for instance, selfishness, or altruism, or competitiveness?

For my answers, read on