Humans tend to relegate myths as things of the past, fabrications that merley stimulate our imagination and creativity. But what if modern civilization was itself based on a set of myths that we have adopted over centuries as we develop and evolve?
What if instead of our modern understanding of myths as meagre children’s stories, we came to understand them as foundational building blocks for our social, political, and economic life?
In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari argues that all
political and social orders are based on useful and practical fictions which have allowed great flocks of humans to cooperate beyond the scope of any other species. For example, green monkeys use calls of various kinds to communicate, each call differing in its message.
Zoologists have observed that a certain call will invoke monkeys to look up in fear. A
slightly different call warns, ‘Careful! A lion!’, and induces the green monkeys to scramble and run up a tree. In contrast, modern humans have evolved to weave and connect a larger number of sounds and signs to produce an infinite number of sentences, allowing us to store, relate, and ingest a superior amount of information regarding our surroundings.
A monkey can relate to other monkeys the simple fact that there is a lion nearby, but humans are capable of communicating the exact details of when and where the lion was.
Our complex language enables us to relate information about things that do not exist at all such as legends, gods, myths, and religions. Fiction allows us to create and weave common myths such as religious creation stories and believe in them collectively.
This ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers has made us masters of Earth. One can see the practical applications of this in Ancient China where the Mandate of Heaven set a framework for the relationship between the king and his subjects.
Like the Divine Right of Kings in medieval Europe, the Mandate of Heaven was used to
justify the rule of a king by the “will of heaven” and embodied the natural order of the
cosmos. If a ruler was overthrown, it was universally understood that the king had been
justifiably removed by the will of heaven and was unworthy of such a title. It was also
common belief that natural disasters were representative of heavens divine retribution and, consequently… it was not uncommon to see a ruler overthrown following a disaster.
Fiction also has wider individual benefits for those seeking improvement. Scores of
articles and research point that reading fiction hones and strengthens several different
cognitive muscles that are at the root of emotional intelligence.
One such study done by the British Psychological Society Research digest put together five experiments which concluded that reading just a few pages of fiction a day enabled participants to be better at interpreting facial gestures and emotions of others.
By showing you the the world through the eyes of various different characters, fiction can give you a window into other’s lives and views on life. Ultimately, fiction is generally understood to have a positive effect on emotional
intelligence, particularly empathy.
So go read some!
Writer | Culture & Humanities Blogger
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