Of Brains and Men
A short one from me, for once! But I needed to get this out of my head, either for general discussion with you clever people, or later research / procrastination (delete as appropriate).
Watching Game of Thrones last night it struck me how many stories we keep track of, whether it be long form TV drama, soaps, movie franchises, comics, novels or games. I’m in the middle of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and will no doubt pick up the latest from George RR Martin whenever he finishes it. Star Wars is 1/3 the way through a new trilogy, itself part of a wider set of stories in a universe where there are plenty of tales to tell. I’m sure many of you are in a similar situation, whatever genre you’re into or medium you prefer. You may also be a student of history, and have a deep understanding of the people and stories of a particular time.
Now for each of these fictional or historical universes, we understand those characters, their motivations and relationships, the rules that govern their worlds that don’t necessarily apply in ours. They’re stored in our brains and we switch back into them each time we pick up a book or switch on the TV.
A certain amount of our brain’s capacity relates to these social rules and relationships. Certainly, we see from Anthropology that there seems to be a correlation here: Dunbar’s Number suggests that the average size of a social group for different species of primate relates to the volume of their neocortex.
So here’s my hypothesis: that as language evolved, and we recounted stories of our exploits, tales of our ancestors, our brain capacity grew, even if we lived in small groups. Our stories became more fanciful, we invented fiction. And now we see a huge proportion of our lives are based around these other worlds and relationships that are not our own.
This prompts a number of questions:
- As a species are we continuing to expand our neocortex because of the diverse and complex stories we consume?
- As individuals do we sacrifice real-world relationships for fictional ones, or does this help us expand our capacity?
- Does the exposure to more points of view and a different set of rules help us to empathise with others and adapt to situations outside our usual experience?