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Approaching a Scientific Theory of Literature

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A week ago, it occurred to me that I could model a given writer's chances of producing masterpieces using the r/K selection theory of evolutionary biology. It shows the reproductive behavior of different types of species. Some species produce a number of offspring very quickly. They do not care for them well, and most of them die fairly quickly. But some of them find a niche in the environment and live to maturity. Other animals, often larger species, produce relatively few young but then they care for them a great deal longer. These K selected species have a much greater chance of reaching maturity and reproducing themselves. This shows the different tactics a prolific writer can use as opposed to a perfectionist.

A few days later, it occurred to me that I could model the probability that a country has produced masterpieces of fiction using the Drake equation. The Drake equation is a theoretical model designed to gauge the probability of intelligent extra-terrestrial life in outer space. Compiling population and literacy data from individual countries, I figured that we could at least make a guess which country had likely produced the most enduring works of fiction.

It occurred to me today, that the novel, the epic, the sonnet, the lyric, and the play could all fall under the heading of species, and when we talk about which form is better what we are really talking about is life expectancy, and an ideas adaptability to it's global environment, specifically our minds. You can see that the rules of evolutionary biology apply even here, as they are simply a model for competitive behavior. It is theorized that species individualize and diversify more the larger their environment is and the farther apart they are. This shows how the east adopts different forms from the west. But now they are co-mingling, and the environment has gotten much larger for all types of writing and ideas. This is a very exciting time. You can see the novel, this alien species, dominating new environments it's been brought into, and filling the niches which other local writing forms used to hold. And yet, other smaller forms continue to thrive alongside of the novel. This forms an ecosystem.

It occurred to me that most of the famous novels have all been big novels. The more massive they are, the longer they live, the more fame they acquire. At first, I thought that the reason for this was 1)you can treat a given subject more fully in a longer work than you could in a shorter one. 2) The more time you invest in a work the more committed you'd be to either enjoying it or convincing other people of it's worth. But there's more to it than that. The giant novel has more things happening in it than a shorter form like a haiku. There are more places where a person may grasp hold of it, and find their bliss. I used to think that our academic system encouraged the shorter forms: novellas, sonnets, and short stories. This was because they had a lot of material to cover and not enough time to teach War and Peace. Now, I realize that some longer novels are taught in classes, but there are constraints. If the school term were longer, I think we'd see more giant novels, or epics being studied. Likewise, if we contract the school term, we contract the volume of literature studied. The more people study a given form, and learn to appreciate it, the more likely they are to produce that form.

Despite what people think, there is a cause and effect in literature. I must study more evolutionary biology, more science, and logic in general and apply what I have learned to literature. Someday we shall lift this wonderful area of human knowledge out of the superstition and ignorance it has dwelt in since the dawn of time.


  1. Sarasvati21's Avatar
    How very very fascinating. Really neat; I've never thought of that before.
  2. kiz_paws's Avatar
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts -- absolutely fascinating, and good stuff to mull over. You get some stars from me!