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The Professor in the Cage

Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

By Jonathan Gottschall
13-minute read
Audio available
The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall

In The Professor in the Cage (2015), professor Jonathan Gottschall enters the world of mixed martial arts to discover the sources of our fascination with violence. Through the power of modern science and by applying the weight of human history, these blinks reveal how our love of fighting is grounded in our deepest human instincts.

  • Anyone interested in the origins of violence
  • People fascinated by martial arts
  • Anyone hoping to learn more about humanity’s fascination with fighting

Jonathan Gottschall studies the intersection of science and art as a distinguished fellow in the English Department at Washington & Jefferson College. He is also the author of The Storytelling Animal, which was a New York Times Editor's Choice Selection.

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The Professor in the Cage

Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

By Jonathan Gottschall
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall
Synopsis

In The Professor in the Cage (2015), professor Jonathan Gottschall enters the world of mixed martial arts to discover the sources of our fascination with violence. Through the power of modern science and by applying the weight of human history, these blinks reveal how our love of fighting is grounded in our deepest human instincts.

Key idea 1 of 8

Fighting is a human act, but over time it has become more and more codified.

Some people fight for revenge, others for prestige and still others just fight for fun. But one thing is for sure: people have been fighting since the beginning of human history.

However, certain aspects of fighting have indeed changed. In the past, men have fought in ways that would seem brutal to people today. They would batter each other to death with stone axes, slice each other to pieces with swords and burn each other alive.

The reasons why people fought would also seem strange nowadays. For example, honor used to be one of the main reasons for fights, because a person’s capacity to defend his honor defined his social status. And without social status, a person was nothing in the eyes of others.

Clearly, our species’s past was quite violent. But over the course of many generations, humans collectively learned how to control their violent urges by allowing society to codify violence.

Take duels as a case in point. Instead of a fight breaking out without warning, duels controlled violence by codifying strict limitations and rules. For example, opponents had to agree on a time and place to fight, and only “civilized” weapons, like swords or guns, could be used. And if you could get your opponent to back down instead of fighting, you could win before anyone got hurt.

This pattern of increased codification of violence continues right up to the present.

Even though fighting still happens, and people do fight for honor, most of it is highly codified. Take the incredibly popular sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). Although there are barely any rules regarding the actual combat, the act of fighting itself is highly codified: it’s limited to a specific time and place, and is closely supervised by a referee.

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