Storytelling: The World’s Real Oldest Profession
What is the all-powerful force that has made homo sapiens the single most dominant and deadly species on the planet?
Think it’s our brains? We’ve had them in this form for perhaps 300,000 years. We have had the same cognitive ability in their use for perhaps 70,000 years. One could make the case there are animals on this planet with brains as highly developed as ours. Neanderthals had bigger brains. Homo Erectus as a species lived nine times longer than we have. What has set us apart?
It is only in the last bit of our history, the past 5 or 6 millennia, and really perhaps only in the last 200 years with the industrial revolution, have we truly dominated the planet in service of this implacable force.
It has also set us on the path to extinction.
What is this almighty force?
I’ll give you a hint: my life’s work is in service of it.
It is fiction. It is the stories we believe in that created our cultures, our religions, our history—everything beyond our genetics that makes us human. Fiction is everything we talk about, think, or feel. None of it is real outside of our collective minds. All of it is at best an approximation of reality, a representation of what’s going on around us that exists only in our minds. The content of that which is written, whether book, letter, or web post, has no existence beyond the writer until someone reads it.
Sociological research has shown that the natural size of a group bonded by intimate knowledge of each other is around 150 individuals. Beyond this number the group will become unstable and break up into smaller groups. So how do we humans hold together groups of millions of individuals, who can conquer continents, believe in one God and go to war against other nations?
The value of money. In God we trust. We hold these truths to be self-evident…all fiction.
I am a storyteller, arguably the world’s real oldest profession. It is a profession that bears with it a big responsibility. Any one of us can only understand a tiny portion of our world, it is far too complex. What sets us apart is our ability to thrive in that complexity by not just sharing knowledge, but by creating cultures, contexts, ways of talking about reality that we can all share. From our individual ignorance can arise our collective genius. From the creation of compelling fiction we can draw together and accomplish such things as landing a human on the moon.
Picture us out in what will become part of West Africa on a warm spring night some 60,000 years ago. Picture us as black people, by the way, as were most homo sapiens at the time. We are gathered around the fire, the whole tribe, children and all, waiting for an old guy to begin telling us a tale. As always the story he will tell helps us understand a bit about the crazy, dangerous world in which we live, has us remember those who went before, binds us together in ways we cannot comprehend, and entertains us.
Where are we taking our world? Where would you like us to go? Here we explore the stories that create our world: the final frontier. These are the voyages of Gary R. Moor, his ongoing mission to explore strange new stories, to seek out stories that create a new life and new civilization; to boldly go where no story has gone before.
Not only do I write science fiction and fantasy novels (which you can buy here) I post articles and items of interest from what you may refer to broadly as my research. Everything I do funnels to my writing in one way or another. I enjoy sharing this exploration with you. I will provide a sound case for the assertions I’ve made regarding the power of fiction. What you may discover in visiting my blog is information, new ideas, perhaps even an insight or two into what is troubling you. Most of us are fighting battles no one else knows about. You’ll get to share in what I write about in my novels.
In visiting my blog regularly you will see where my peripatetic mind has rambled. I also do actual rambling here around Corvallis Oregon hiking as many new trails as I can find, very often striking off on an unplanned adventure by getting lost, or as I prefer to say, exploring. My research and what catches my interest is much the same.
What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
Carl Sagan, from Pale Blue Dot: a vision of the human future in space. New York: Random House. 1994.
If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs.
Carl Sagen from Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1990 Update)