The Trickster Brain: Neuroscience, Evolution, and Narrative

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Overview

Until recently, scientific and literary cultures have existed side-by-side but most often in parallel universes, without connection. The Trickster Brain: Neuroscience, Evolution, and Nature by David Williams addresses the premise that humans are a biological species stemming from the long process of evolution, and that we do exhibit a universal human nature, given to us through our genes. From this perspective, literature is shown to be a product of our biological selves. By exploring central ideas in neuroscience, evolutionary biology, linguistics, music, philosophy, ethics, religion, and history, Williams shows that it is the circuitry of the brain’s hard-wired dispositions that continually create similar tales around the world: “archetypal” stories reflecting ancient tensions that arose from our evolutionary past and the very construction of our brains. The book asserts that to truly understand literature, one must look at the biological creature creating it. By using the lens of science to examine literature, we can see how stories reveal universal aspects of the biological mind. The Trickster character is particularly instructive as an archetypal character who embodies a raft of human traits and concerns, for Trickster is often god, devil, musical, sexual, silver tongued, animal, and human at once, treading upon the moral dictates of culture.

Williams brings together science and the humanities, demonstrating a critical way of approaching literature that incorporates scientific thought.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Swirski
David Williams tricks the reader into following in his fleet footsteps into the land of neuroscience, evolution, music, and other seemingly non-literary areas in order to flesh out something important about our evolutionary brains, namely our propensity for weaving stories.
Kayt Sukel
In The Trickster Brain, David Williams brings together the seemingly incompatible worlds of neuroscience, anthropology and literature with wit and scholarly flair. Williams does not shy away from the more contradictory elements of human nature in this ambitious book, and he leaves the reader with the knowledge that our own brains are tricking us into a better understanding of our most elemental natures.
Journal Of Folklore Research
Taken as a whole, The Trickster Brain can be admired for its lofty goal, which is to connect a kind of cross-culturally realized narrative element to the biological design and function of the human brain. Folklorists may also admire Williams’ willingness to work across disciplinary lines.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739143971
  • Publisher: Lexington Books
  • Publication date: 5/29/2012
  • Pages: 314
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Williams, PhD, has been a writer-in-residence at a number of universities and colleges, including Knox College and the Metropolitan State College of Denver. Heis also an Emmy winning songwriter, cartoonist, and string musician with many CDs to his credit. Currently, he teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1: Searching for Trickster
Chapter 2: The Silver Tongued Devil
Archetypes
Where is Science in the Study of Literature?
Universal Human Nature
Textual Authority vs. Empirical Evidence
How Did Language Begin?
Chomsky
Schema Theory
Chapter 3: The Tricksterish Brain
Chapter 4: Evolution
Chapter 5: The Brain of Sex
Sex, Disease, and Competition
Displays
The Sexiest Animals
Ornamental Mind
Chapter 6: The Brain of Love and War
Sexual Selection and Altruism
Monogamy?
Women and War
Civilization and Enslavement of Women
Why Love?
The Power of Love: Women’s Songs of Love from Afghanistan
Chapter 7: The Brain of Song
Music and Language—Common Roots
Two Camps
Why Did Music and Language Split?
Music and Food
Sexual Selection for Music
Tribal Songs for Every Aspect of Life
Chapter 8: Ethics
The Falacy of the Naturalistic Fallacy: Is—Ought
Fairness and Justice in the Animal World
Chapter 9: Storytelling and the Theory of Mind
Unconsciousness & Consciousness
Theory of Mind
Chapter 10: The Brain of God
Potheism/Monotheism and the Search for Meaning
Why God?
What Caused Religion?
Origins of Religion
Other Explanations
Chapter 11: The Trickster of Mythology
Why Trickster?
Trickster Biological Origins
Chapter 12: A Swath of Trickster Stories from Oral Literature
Sex, Desire, and the Body
Some Trickster Stories from Around the World
Coyote Marries a Man (Plains Cree, North America)
A Contest for Wives (Cochiti, North America)
Legba (Fon, West Africa)
Coyote Visits the Women (Assiniboine, North America)
Coyote and His Anus (Nez Perce, North America)
The Trickster Myth (Winnebago, North America) excerpts
Uncle Tompa (Tibet)
Namaranganin (Aborigine, Australia)
Coyote Sleeps with His Own Daughters (Southern Ute, North America)
How Kwaku Ananse Got Aso in Marriage (Ashanti, Africa)
Coyote Keeps his Dead Wife’s Genitals (Lipan Apache, North America)
Chapter 13: Female Tricksters
Evil Woman Trickster Stories
The Toothed Vagina (Yurok, North America)
Teeth in the Wrong Place (Ponca-Otoe, North America)
The Witch Wife (Colombia)
Proverbs 5, 3-8 (Hebrew)
Clever/Good Women Trickster Stories
Old Man Coyote Meets Coyote Woman (Blackfoot, North America)
The Most Precious Thing in the World (Hebrew)
The Clever Daughter-in-Law (Kanda, India)
The Wife who Refused to be Beaten (Kashmiri, India)
One More Use for Artists (Gujerti, India)
The Faithful Wife and the Woman Warrior (Tiwa, North America) A Pueblo tale featuring Apache characters
Iktome Sleeps with His Wife by Mistake (Brule Sioux, North America)
Chapter 14: Literary Filters
Chapter 15: Music and the Trickster
Literary Filters
Music and the Trickster
Singing the World Into Being: Creation Stories with Song
Apache Creation Story (North America)
Creation Story (Hopi, North America)
Bunjil The Creator #1 (Aboriginal, Australian)
Diné (or Navajo) (North America)
Mythic Trickster Musicians and Singers
Ajapa and the Roasted-Peanut Seller (Yoruba, Africa)
Coyote Giving (Paiute, North America)
Hermes (Greek)
Hanuman (India)
The Zande Trickster, Tule; The Bushman (Africa)
Chapter 16: A Swath of Other Trickster Stories from Around the World
The Wonderful Tar Baby Story (African American)
John (African American)
How the Wicked Tanuki was Punished (Japan)
Fox and Snake—Good is Repaid with Evil (Venezuela)
Sun Wu-K’Ung, The Monkey King (China)
Dionysus (Greek)
The Wanderings of Dionysus (Greek)
Prometheus (Greek)
Pandora (Greek)
Orpheus (Greek)
Coyote and the Shadow People (Nez Perce, America)
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Apocrophy Gospel, 2nd century)
Jesus Child (Quichua, Ecuador)
Jesus Christ (Cakchiquel Maya (Guatemala)/ Matias Sicajan)
We-Gyet (‘Ksan, Northwest Coast)
Chapter 17: The Trickster Personified
The Heyoka Ceremony
Buddhist Clowns
Jewish and Christian Clowns
Other Clowns
Islamic Clown
Jesters
Kannada; Tamil; Telugu (India)
How Tamali Rama Became A Jester (India)
Tamali Rama Recites Story of Ramayna (India)
Tyll Ulenspiegel’s Merry Prank (Germany)
Quevedo and the King (Mexico)
Chapter 18: Blues & Courting Tricksters
Chapter 19: Trickster in Written Literature
Chapter 20: Trickster Was Wandering

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