Why We Like Lists

You may have noticed that lists are very popular these days. Nine out of ten blog posts incorporate some kind of list, and, according to one study1 the typical American spends approximately ninety-seven minutes daily dealing with lists of one sort or another. This fascination with lists is not, however, an entirely new thing: archeologists have found lists dating back to Sumerian times. One of the earliest, believed to be Babylonian reads (when translated into English) as follows:

  1. Hammurabi smells like a pig.
  2. Adapa was a fool.
  3. Gilgamesh was a great guy, as long as you weren’t his friend.
  4. Lugalbanda was boring
  5. The Assyrians are hated by the gods. All of the gods. Can you blame the gods? Of course not. Every right thinking man hates the Assyrians, so the gods, being right-thinking, hate the Assyrians too. Even Ishtar.
  6. I wish somebody would invent air conditioning—all this slaving away in the hot sun is too much.
  7. At least we have beer.
  8. But we can’t keep it cold.
  9. Why does everybody complain all the time? I can’t stand complainers.
  10. But at least we can read The Flying News.

The Flying News has been conducting scientific experiments in order to determine why lists are so popular. Did we find anything? We did. After much arduous labor, considerable backbreaking toil, and a lot of hard work, we have determined that there is a special area in the brain dedicated exclusively to processing lists. This brain area lies in the middle of the frontal lobe, between the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Tests show that this part of the brain is even active in infants, which is why babies spend so much time staring off into space—they are busy making lists.2

Seti I and Ramesses II and part of the king list at Abydos. Unattributed illustration from the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903). Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. William H. Quilp, “The List in Contemporary Culture: A Sociological Model” International Journal of Evolutionary Catalogy 15 (2012): 13-43.
  2. Since we discovered this brain area ourselves, we decided it would be appropriate to call it The Flying News List Processing Area (TFNLPA).

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