Friday Program
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
Saturday Program
 

To Delight and Instruct:
Fiction as an Adaptation and as a By-Product

Steven Pinker
Professor of Cognitive Science
MIT

Why do people enjoy fictional narratives? Building on Horace's observation that the purpose of literature is "to delight and instruct," I suggest that an enjoyment of fiction may be both an evolutionary by-product and an evolutionary adaptation. The by-product consists in using virtual reality technologies to simulate pleasurable experiences, especially gossip. The adaptation may consist in mentally exploring the ordinary consequences of combinatorial, strategic human interactions involving fitness-related goals in a simulated world, not unlike case-based reasoning in artificial intelligence systems.
 

  
Steven Pinker is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. He is the author of numerous papers and edited volumes on on language and visual cognition, and of five books: Language Learnability and Language Development (1984), Learnability and Cognition (1989), The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), and Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (1999).
 
Personal web page: http://www-bcs.mit.edu/~steve
 
top of page
 
Friday Program
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
Saturday Program