Have you ever wondered what makes us special?
I recently watched a Ted Talk, by Yuval Noah Harari, What explains the rise of humans, where he explores the basic question about what makes us human. Chimpanzees are our closest relative, sharing 99% of our DNA, and yet we are as different to them as the sun is to the moon. Why?
According to Harari, humans differ from other animals because we can cooperate in large numbers and with great flexibility. How do we do this? Through our imagination. Animals use their language to describe objective reality; in contrast, humans exist in a “dual reality” consisting of the fictional as well as the objective. We have the unique ability to imagine an alternate reality. In other words, we are storytellers.
What is in that desire to create?
Writers spin stories out of a void, creating characters and worlds that exist on paper and flourish in our minds. We share stories to understand our world and one another. It is no surprise, then, that myths and legends have been passed down through the generations. These stories have taught us courage, empathy, and helped make sense of a baffling world.
It is a uniquely human quality to imagine what lies beyond our immediate perceptions and postulate theories for may be out there—or imagine ravenous zombies rising from the earth and spawning an apocalypse. Chimps have somehow missed out on that magical 1% and they are unable to imagine an alternative reality where they rule the world and humans entertain them in zoos.
Unfortunately in this insanely busy world, where we are driven to increase our productivity, the first thing that suffers is our creative expression. We may as well be ants with a singleminded goal to keep the supply chain intact. The creative brain needs time to percolate, to lose itself in a daydream before it can do its thing.
If you are a writer, I urge you to get out from under your rock. Find a writers’ group where you can tap in on the group dynamic- whether it be a small circle of 6 writers or a grander association with 266 members. Look for ways to cooperate, share, mentor and seek feedback. Spin your fiction for the next generation and celebrate what it means to be human.
If you haven’t yet watched Harari’s talk, here is the clip. Before you go, drop me a line and let me know what your favourite creative resource is, whether video, book or podcast.
For more posts on storytelling and creativity, check these out:
Ted Talk Yuval Noah Harari: What explains the rise of humans?