Enjoying a visit with my amazing Ace editor sister Steph, I happened to pick up the book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. A few chapters into this intriguing read, I came across this fascinating description of the power of fiction and wanted to share it:
…”Yet the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.
“Legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, ‘Caredul! A lion!’ Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say, ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This abiliry to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of the Sapiens language.
“It’s relatively easy to agree that only Homo Sapiens can speak about things that don’t really exist, and believe six impossible things before breakfast. You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas in mOnkey heaven. But why is it important? After all, fiction can be dangerously misleading or distracting. People who go to the Forest looking for fairies and unicorns would seem to have less chance of survival than people who go looking for mushrooms and deer….
“However, fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We canqwaavwbcommon myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.”
I love this tribute to creating fiction! Not only has it helped us all survive by saving us from extinction, as wordsmiths we know better than anyone the transformative power of stories. Our power to create whole worlds can lead us to truth, beauty, and new horizons. Write on!
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