Rise, Homo Formulator

I’m taking a course on folklore (big surprise) and so far I’m getting quite a lot out of it. Pretty much every class I learn something about the history of the world that I’m upset I didn’t know about beforehand (Most notably: Zoroastrianism was a thing that existed).

Folklore officially refers to the shared cultural performances that we pick up from other people. So far this has meant proverbs, jokes, folk songs, riddles, and that sort of thing, but yesterday we started on the good stuff. Oh yes, stories and narrative from an anthropological perspective. I already liked the professor quite a bit, but  he really endeared himself to me by sharing his opinion that the capacity for storytelling is the most notable thing about the human species.

He completely got the whole “stories really matter to people” thing, and pointed out how if you just sit in on something like a chemistry class you’ll notice that most of the content is taught in the form of a story, because that’s what we latch on to. Fantastic stuff.

The most interesting point was that stories are completely unique to humans. After chimpanzees learn sign language, they can communicate effectively, create their own words, talk to themselves, and even teach the skill to other chimps. Yet they lack even rudimentary storytelling abilities. That’s just incredible. It’s so unique a trait that our professor said he thought we might as well be called “homo formulator,” or “the storytelling primate.” I’ll happily join him on that one.

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