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Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative

Saturday, June 2, 2012
8:00 pm - 9:30 pm

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” says American author Joan Didion. Stories have existed in all forms—parables, poems, tall tales, myths, novels, plays, songs—across almost all cultures and throughout human history. But is storytelling essential to survival? Is it a driver of evolution or a byproduct? What is the primal urge that drove our distant ancestors to crawl into a dark cave and paint portraits on rocky walls? Join a spirited discussion of how science has begun to explain the uniquely human gift of narrative, looking to the brain for insight on how neurons alight when we hear a tale, to developmental psychology for clues about the role of storytelling in learning, and to storytellers themselves for explanations that ultimately inform a greater understanding of who we are as a species.


Jay AllisonJournalist, Documentary Maker

Jay Allison is an independent journalist, documentary maker, and leader in public broadcasting. He is a frequent producer for NPR news programs and This American Life, and a six-time Peabody Award winner.

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Paul BloomPsychologist

Paul Bloom’s research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. A professor of psychology at Yale University, Bloom has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, but also for publications with more general circulation, such as The New York Times, the Guardian, and the Atlantic.

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Jeffrey EugenidesAuthor

Jeffrey Eugenides grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His novel Middlesex was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Ambassador Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, France’s Prix Medicis, and the Lambda Literary Award.

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Jonathan GottschallWriter

Jonathan Gottschall writes books about the intersection of science and art. He is one of the leading figures in a new movement that is trying to bridge the humanities-sciences divide.

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Joyce Carol OatesAuthor

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde, and the New York Times bestsellers The Falls and The Gravedigger’s Daughter.

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Keith Oatley Psychologist, Novelist

Keith Oatley has spent the last twenty years researching the psychology of reading and writing fiction, as both a scientist and the author of three novels.

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The Upright Citizens Brigade TheatrePerformance Artists

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is dedicated to fostering both an appreciation and education of the arts through affordable and high quality comedic performances and classes. The Upright CItizen’s Brigade first brought its award winning sketch comedy show to New York in 1996.

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