While Boyd’s exploration of the origins of fiction is intriguing on its surface, his arguments fall short of convincing me of that the ability to fictionalize accounts is innate. His arguments fly in the face of decades of psychology research that certainly allow for evolution to be a part of human creative thought but demonstrate time and again that our worlds are formed through modeling other behaviors.
To read Gilgamesh, while centuries old, does not lend any more credence to Boyd’s argument. It merely indicates that humans for quite a long time have told stories in order to demonstrate the human condition. Oral and written traditions have been passed down in most known cultures whether they exist to tell of past heroes or to teach children a lesson (sometimes gruesomely).
Snow Crash although told in a far more complex manner has all of the elements of Gilgamesh including dialogue, conflict, rising action, and ultimate resolution. Boyd may argue that the nearly 3,000 years that separate the two tales bears evidence of evolving brain activity when it comes to fiction, it may be far more deeply explained by the evolution of culture, science, and technology. If Stephenson had to chip out letters on a stone tablet to create something like Snow Crash, he may have been a bit more terse, accordingly.
Boyd-bashing aside, I now enjoy a new realization that narrative can go far deeper than the words on the page, the action on screen, or the characters in stone. Perhaps a line of research in this vein might be to explore how a group of students when all given the same set of story elements (characters, plot, setting) create varying stories regardless of the medium. What would this tell us about how humans are similar or different? Would Boyd be circuitously proven correct?