Seminar: The Truth About Fiction: Biological Reality and Imaginary Lives

Friday March 15th at 12pm ET
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Free Seminar and Q&A Session

This seminar’s overarching theme is that humans are compelled to create and consume depictions of imaginary lives, that these lives are in crucial respects like those of real people, and that the inner lives of real people contain their own narrative structures. The seminar uses evolutionary human life history theory to construct a model of human nature: the motives that animate people in the main phases of human life, their main reproductive and social relationships, and their main forms of imaginative experience. I divide human life phases and motive concerns into ten main categories: survival, death, growing up, making a living (subsistence), sexual romance, parenting, family, within-group social life, aliens and enemies, and imagination. An eleventh category sums up all the others in stories about whole human lives. For each category, I describe what we now know about human experience in this area—about growing up, for instance, or dual-parenting pair bonds—and give examples of how different literary perspectives have dealt with these common human concerns. “What we now know” is a synthesis of information from evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology and anthropology, and cognitive and affective neuroscience. The array of literary examples is drawn from world literature, though with a predominant use of Anglophone sources. The Q&A session after the lecture will hopefully find time to discuss the narrative techniques that help produce imaginative meaning. Our fictions depict our human realities, and our human realities are shaped naturally into stories. The stories we tell about our own lives draw inspiration from the examples provided us in the fabricated lives that make up fictional stories.

Read Joseph Carroll's article "Evolution, Human Nature, and Imagination" here