Friday, August 26, 2016

Why I Love Fiction – Revisited


A year and a half ago, I wrote a discussion about why I love fiction. Naive and excited at the novelty of having a blog, I put everything under the vague umbrella of philosophy. Since then, I have learned a lot, and discovered that though most of it might overlap with philosophy in some way or another, there is quite a bit of variety and nuance that deserve their own time in the spotlight. In this discussion, I present five major reasons I love fiction.

The first reason I love fiction is because it sparks an interest in learning. You can never learn too much. Fiction can bring you topics you never knew existed, and make things interesting that you never thought you would care about.

It can make you want to learn science, especially if the story takes place in space. Science fiction, particularly Stargate, played a huge role in setting me on a course for a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Of course, fiction can also inspire you to learn about other kinds of science, like economics, political science, anthropology, paleontology, astrobiology, and many more.

I now know that this has nothing to do with science, but it got me interested
in physics.

As I chose to focus on last time, fiction can make you want to learn philosophy. Fiction forces you to think in ways you have never thought before, seeing real or hypothetical problems people face, the different ways they go about solving those problems, and the consequences of their decisions. Star Trek is the most well-known philosophy-driven series, predicting what society will be like in the future, how it will have solved the problems we now have approaching a global society, and what new problems we will face hundreds of years from now.

Two years ago, the video game Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher sparked my interest in philosophy, and I’ve been reading up on historical philosophers, listening to philosophical discussions, and watching video lectures ever since.

Fiction can make you want to learn about culture. If we are kept apart form outside influences in a community of people who think and act like we do, we will tend to think of our way of life as the best, if not the only way to happiness. It is in our nature. But fantasy and sci-fi almost always take place in a culture different from our own, encouraging us to wonder how life might have been different, better, or worse if our worldview were based on different values and assumptions. For example, in a few nations in The Way of Kings by my favorite author Brandon Sanderson, it is considered immodest for a woman to show her left hand. This might get us to think about what clothing modesty means, instead of taking what we grew up with for granted.

I am black on the right side. He is white on the right side.
It is obvious to the most simpleminded that he is of an inferior breed

Fiction can also make you want to learn history. The relationship between fiction and history is different than between fiction and culture, science, or philosophy. In some sense, history is a giant collection of stories, with character arcs, serial arcs, and meta-arcs. Look at Marvel or DC comics, The Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars; it is no coincidence that the longer and deeper a fictional world becomes, the more it starts to feel like history. For someone who, from lack of exposure, does not know that they would love history, a franchise like one of these could serve as a gateway.

The second major reason I love fiction is because it fosters empathy. Readers learn to empathize with many different kinds of people by seeing stories through their eyes. In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, we follow a boy whose conscience tells him to do things counter to what he’s been brought up to believe is right. In I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, we follow John Cleaver, a teenage sociopath who struggles to do what is right despite having no internal moral compass at all. We can even build our sense of empathy just by reading a story with a viewpoint character from another country, demographic, or of the opposite gender.

Through an empathic connection, readers can learn life lessons along with the characters. Science has shown that, for readers who are absorbed in their books, their brain patterns activate as if they were in the same situations that the characters go through. If characters make mistakes and grow because of them, then the readers can grow with them and avoid making the same mistakes in real life.

The third reason I love fiction is because it provides an escape from the struggles of life when you need it. Though, escapism has a bad reputation, and not entirely undeserved, it can be a good thing in moderation. It is a bit like drinking. If someone spends so much time in fantasy worlds that their life starts to suffer, it is a problem. But in the right amounts at the right times, it can relax a person and make them happier and more productive. Sometimes if you are caught up in the stress of work or a particularly gloomy election season, you might just need to see Superman beat up bad guys, or Goku jaunt across the world on a magical cloud.

Goku in Dragon Ball

Fourth, fiction is a subcategory of art, and art is the ultimate expression of a free society. The more democratized a nation, the more people have the time to write, compose, draw, perform, and direct. The more secular a country, the more diverse and colorful the ideas that come to the table. The more educated a people, the more they will have the time and resources to enjoy and appreciate artists’ work.

The final reason I love fiction encompasses and transcends all the others. When I read a truly good book, watch a masterwork of a movie, or play a video game masterpiece, I get drawn into it with my whole being. I become one with the characters, the scenery, the music, in a zen-level immersion.

When the first tones of the Star Wars theme song sounded through the theater I sat in at my first viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was so overcome that tears came to my eyes. Through that movie, I had such an enraptured experience that when I went home I was so bursting with passion that I wrote an awful discussion about it, which ended up being little more than a fanboy’s gushing. From the outside, fanboys and fangirls may look like blabbering idiots, but the reality is that we have a deep—even spiritual, if I may use that word—fire of passion inside of us, and it overflows. We want to tell the world, to share what we have with everyone, so they can join us in our glorious sense of purpose and meaning.

This is the reason I write. This is what motivates me to keep going, keep practicing, keep outlining and drafting. I want to be able to demonstrate this majesty we feel, and bring it to life in others. This is why I want to write fiction instead of philosophy or science books. This is why I love fiction.