The Holodeck Is Real

All of us understand that fiction is about fake people and fake events. But this doesn’t stop the unconscious centers of our brains from processing like it's real.

Does Fictional Violence Lead to Real Violence?

Has violent media consumption actually helped reduce criminal violence? The notion isn't as perverse as it may at first seem.

How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

Maria Konnikova has written a fun and intriguing new book called Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking 2013). Konnikova was good enough to answer a few of my questions.

Defending Just-So Stories

Evolutionary psychology is again under attack as mere "just-so" storytelling. But giving up on telling and testing just-so stories is giving up hope of answering the most compelling questions about our species: Who are we and how did we get this way?

A Message For Jonah Lehrer

They keep comparing you to James Frey, Stephen Glass, and Jayson Blair. But you aren't in that league. I'll give you another chance, Jonah, and I think others will too.

The Power of Fake Gay (and Black) Friends

New research doesn’t just suggest that fictitious gays blazed the trail that led to Barrack Obama’s historic endorsement of gay marriage. It suggests that but for “fictitious blacks”—from Kunta Kinte to the powerful African American commander-in-chief on the television show 24—we might not have had a President Obama in the first place.

Fiction Addiction

Imagine you find a magical device that allows you to enter an alternate universe as an invisible observer. Before entering, you know you will witness brutal, scarring things: the rapes and murders of women and children, bodies tortured, defiled, and dismembered.

Creatures of Story

Humans are storytelling animals. We are, as a species, addicted to story. But the addiction runs deeper than we think.

Sacred Fictions

Why did we evolve to be religious? How did dogmatic faith in imaginary beings not diminish our ability to survive and reproduce? How could the frugal mechanisms of natural selection not have worked against religion, given the high cost of religious sacrifices, taboos, and commandments?

A Cursed Rage for Order

What’s really striking about conspiracy theory is not how strange it is, but how ordinary it is. Go to Google, type in “conspiracy,” and browse through some of the millions of hits. Conspiracy theory is the product of certain universal biases in human psychology.

Shotgunnings and Clawhammerings

LR was an average looking young man. There was nothing menacing in his eyes or the set of his jaw or the way he held his hands. But one day, quite without prompting, he confessed to a horrendous crime. He described it with cold panache, without the slightest twinge of regret in his voice.

Selfless Genes: A New Revolution in Biology

Starting in the 1960s, biologists defined altruism—real and authentic selflessness--out of existence. On a planet ruled by selfish genes, any apparent act of altruism was just disguised selfishness. As Michael Ghiselin put it, “Scratch an altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed.”

Crappy First Drafts of Great Books, Part II

The other day I wrote a blog post on the crappy drafts of great books. It included pages from the actual drafts of great novels. My friend, the Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd, sent me another great example.

WrestleMania and the Mystery of Sports Nuts

The deranged psychology of sports fans has been a mystery for centuries. During football season, tens of millions of us sit through games where we see an average of 11 minutes of actual football action, and approximately 30 hours of commercials. Why do people invest so much money and time, so much energy and emotion, in watching other people play?

Crappy First Drafts of Great Books

When I teach freshman writing, my first job is to destroy my students' illusions. TV shows and films give them the dangerous idea that great authors just wait to get inspired, and then genius pours out of their pens in an unstoppable flood.