Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not.
The rush of intoxication a good story triggers doesn’t make us closet hedonists—it makes us willing pupils, primed to absorb the myriad lessons each story imparts.
Evolution dictates that the first job of any good story is to completely anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a compelling illusion of reality. After all, a good story doesn’t feel like an illusion. What it feels like is life. Literally. A recent brain-imaging study reported in Psychological Science reveals that the regions of the brain that process the sights, sounds, tastes, and movement of real life are activated when we’re engrossed in a compelling narrative.7 That’s what accounts for the vivid mental images and the visceral reactions we feel when...
When a story enthralls us, we are inside of it, feeling what the protagonist feels, experiencing it as if it were indeed happening to us, and the last thing we’re focusing on is the mechanics of the thing.