There’s just one reason we pay attention to stories: survival. We evolved to respond to stories because within them are the nuggets of information that may become critical to our survival. Physical, as well as social.

On a deeper level, stories teach us how to survive in two ways:

One. They teach us how the world works, and therefore help us simulate the future. The material future, like the danger of stepping in front of a speeding car, but also social, i.e., the risk of stepping in front of your seething mother-in-law. Stories equip us with the ability to predict the outcome of our actions. 

Two. They help us navigate life safely. Let someone else (the hero) stand up for themselves, risk everything to find true love, or follow their dreams. Conflict excites us, as long as it’s someone else’s conflict. Observing, examing it, teaches us how to eliminate conflict from our own life. Minimize the risk of failure, and maximize the odds of success.

That’s it. That’s why the news is so addictive, especially in a time of crisis. That’s why people struggle to function without social media. And why a good novel is so hard to put down. All because our brains are hardwired for survival. Physical and social.

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