The Role of Myth in Anthropogeny

Event Date (Pacific Time): 
Friday, May 19, 2023 - 1:00pm to 5:30pm

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Venue:
Event Chairs:

Daniel Povinelli, University of Louisiana
Pauline Wiessner, Arizona State University & University of Utah

Live Symposium Webcast:

Access to the live webcast for this symposium will be provided here on Friday, May 19 starting at 1:00 PM (Pacific Time).

Summary:
The human penchant for storytelling is universal, early-developing, and profoundly culture-shaping. Stories (folk tales, narratives and myths) influence the costs of social transactions and organize societies at every scale of human interaction. Story as a mode of communication is also unprecedented in the animal kingdom: although we are compelled to tell stories about other animals, they are not likewise compelled to tell stories about us (or anything else, for that matter). Even scientists who attempt to objectively understand human origins are destined to craft those explanations as stories, often with narrative and/or mythic overtones. From the domestication of fire to the emergence of cooperative hunting to the evolutionary origins of human cognition, our understanding of the human journey is deeply influenced by stories embedded in our cultural histories. Even our ability to manage urgent human problems such as global health and climate change are affected by the stories and myths humans choose to tell. This symposium explores several stories about how the evolution of storytelling shaped, and continues to shape, the human epoch.

Event Sessions:
Speakers Session

Daniel Povinelli

Opening Remarks

Brian Boyd

Why Do Humans Tell Stories?

Susan Engel

How Children Become Storytellers
In this talk I will describe how and when children begin to tell stories (of all kinds) and why some children tell many stories and others do not. I will outline the psychological uses of storytelling during childhood. I will end by considering the role storytelling plays in children's intellectual development, and implications of that for what happens in schools.

Brandon Barker

Cultural Universals? Folktales, Animals, and the Human Search for Origins

Pauline Wiessner

The Role of Stories in Creating Imaginary Communities

Mathias Guenther

The Salience of Animals and the Trickster in San and Hunter-gatherer Mythology

Daniel Povinelli

All the Stories Animals Don’t Tell

Michael Chazan

Stories of Fire: Origins, Interactions, and Futures

Karen Kramer

Hunting Hypothesis and Male Myths in Anthropogeny

Mark Honigsbaum

Writing Plague: Myth, Morality, and Modernity
In the foundational texts of Western civilisation (the Bible, Iliad), plagues are symbols of divine retribution, signifying Godly displeasure with human misdeeds. But in Thucydides’ classic account of the mysterious plague that swept Athens in 430 BC, Camus’s La Peste, and Elizabeth St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, literary accounts of plagues and pandemics are also morality tales and metaphors for the dissolution of the social bonds necessary for the functioning of modern societies. In this... read more
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