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clop
2010-Jan-17, 04:22 AM
Us humans spend a huge amount of our time and energy reading novels, watching plays, following fictional television dramas and immersing ourselves in movies with made-up storylines. If you think about it, our culture, our economy, our lifestyles and even are infrastructure are all strongly influenced by entertainment based on pure fiction.

What drives us to lavish so much attention on unreal life as opposed to real life? Are we not content to experience only our subjective lives individually? What purpose does fiction serve in our psychology?

And do we know of any animals that exhibit an interest in fiction?

clop

tashirosgt
2010-Jan-17, 05:19 AM
Most of our thoughts about "real" life are fiction, in the sense that we make up assumptions about how things will happen and have happened without directly observing them.

Delvo
2010-Jan-17, 05:54 AM
A tendency to imagine how things could be better or worse than they are could have been selected for because it didn't just lead people to waste time, but also led them to develop new techniques & tactics & technology and prepare for trouble.

Sticks
2010-Jan-17, 06:01 AM
Moved to Off Topic Babbling

Celestial Mechanic
2010-Jan-17, 06:04 AM
... perhaps it's because for most people reality really sucks, and occasional escape is the only thing keeping them sane.

clop
2010-Jan-17, 06:52 AM
Moved to Off Topic Babbling

With respect, I think it is a scientific issue, since it clearly has something to do with our evolution, ancestry and/or psychiatric health.

clop

clop
2010-Jan-17, 06:54 AM
Most of our thoughts about "real" life are fiction, in the sense that we make up assumptions about how things will happen and have happened without directly observing them.

What do you mean?

I think there is a difference between making assumptions about remote events and deliberately enjoying fiction just for the sake of it.

clop

clop
2010-Jan-17, 06:59 AM
... perhaps it's because for most people reality really sucks, and occasional escape is the only thing keeping them sane.

It could be that, but it's not really "occasional" is it. I read fiction most days. Many people are virtually psychologically addicted to watching daily shows like Coronation Street, Eastenders, Neighbours, Home and Away and I'm sure there are lots of American examples. My mother actually records and watches all her soaps, even when she's away from home or when the schedules clash. There must be some form of pleasure centre being stimulated by escaping from our own life and "wasting" it on something that isn't even real.

clop

Spoons
2010-Jan-17, 07:00 AM
I have to say, while a bit of fiction from time to time can be fun, I much prefer non fiction, whether it be biographical, nature documentary, whatever.

Just not news - I can't stand news. I never watch news on TV, almost never buy newspapers.

But yes, I'd say the general liking for fiction, particularly the fantasy movies of recent times, would be due to two things: 1 - the fact that lots of people are quite unsatisfied with their lives, and 2 - from my experiences, a lot of people I know seem to have a fear of knowledge & educational shows. A very sad indictment on modern society.

My current housemate gets all uppity when I put on documentaries, because they "make her brain hurt". Facebook, however, appears to sooth the savage beast. Go figure. (Incidentally, Facebook appears to satisfy the fantasy of having a social life for many people.)

Hungry4info
2010-Jan-17, 07:01 AM
Well, I personally never read fiction anymore and rarely watch television (and even then, never fiction). I still manage to stay sane.

Spoons
2010-Jan-17, 07:06 AM
You'd want to be careful, clop, about assuming everybody does as you do.

I almost never read any fiction.

Home & Away, Neighbours and those sorts of things seem to me more to be a lazy substitute for actual involvement in life. If one gets outside and plays sport, or socializes with others they have no need for such shows, which then just become a burden to keep up with.

I appreciate, however, that my opinion is just that, and yours may be different. I just think that any generalizations about the human need for fiction would not be so scientific.

It would be interesting to see scientific research into this sort of thing though - I'm really fascinated with study of the human mind, what makes it, what drives it, etc.

hhEb09'1
2010-Jan-17, 07:10 AM
What purpose does fiction serve in our psychology?For a lot of people, nothing at all, they seem to get by without it.


With respect, I think it is a scientific issue, since it clearly has something to do with our evolution, ancestry and/or psychiatric health.I dunno, that could be said about almost any preoccupation. So, I can't see it being a scientific issue, directly, unless you could find a way to test and/or measure it.

clop
2010-Jan-17, 07:10 AM
You'd want to be careful, clop, about assuming everybody does as you do.

Home & Away, Neighbours and those sorts of things seem to me more to be a lazy substitute for actual involvement in life. If one gets outside and plays sport, or socializes with others they have no need for such shows, which then just become a burden to keep up with.

Granted, but I'm sure you at least enjoy watching movies?

clop

hhEb09'1
2010-Jan-17, 07:14 AM
Granted, but I'm sure you at least enjoy watching movies?I know a lot of people who can take 'em or leave 'em.

Why should there be any more evolutionary force to fiction than say music or play?

Spoons
2010-Jan-17, 07:17 AM
Well, yes, from time to time. Generally, there isn't much difference from the fiction I watch to reality.

I'm not usually so into fantasy stuff (never seen a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter film), most things I'm into are more in line with events in reality. To me, it's more a matter of the convenience of combining everything you want into a short space of time which drives the fiction I'm interested in. Just lots of interesting everyday occurrences squeezed into 2 hours and a couple of character rather than spread over 2 weeks and dozens of people.

clop
2010-Jan-17, 07:37 AM
Well, yes, from time to time. Generally, there isn't much difference from the fiction I watch to reality.

I'm not usually so into fantasy stuff (never seen a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter film), most things I'm into are more in line with events in reality. To me, it's more a matter of the convenience of combining everything you want into a short space of time which drives the fiction I'm interested in. Just lots of interesting everyday occurrences squeezed into 2 hours and a couple of character rather than spread over 2 weeks and dozens of people.

Perhaps you are not representative of the average human. According to wikipedia Avatar cost $237,000,000 to make and has grossed $1,439,375,063. Assuming it costs $15 to see a movie, almost one hundred million people have paid to see it. That is a lot of people!

clop

Spoons
2010-Jan-17, 07:44 AM
Fair enough, but I would also say that quite a lot of those people are going to see it due to the hype, and so they aren't seen as a social pariah. Everybody wants to talk about that movie at work, at the pub, wherever. This doesn't mean so much they come for the fantasy, as much as to belong.

I'm not trying to say it's the only reason anyone sees it, but it certainly impacts on those numbers you refer to.

I have considered going to see it myself, also for the fact that it is intended for viewing at the cinema, with 3D, so it's not just another one I can wait for on TV some time when I'm bored and feeling lazy.

agingjb
2010-Jan-17, 07:44 AM
Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen's "The Science of Discworld II" has some interesting speculations on this. Are we pan narrans rather than homo sapiens?

Gillianren
2010-Jan-17, 08:39 AM
I read more nonfiction than I used to, but I still read a fair amount of both. Probably more of each than a lot of people do of either. So let me have a stab at it.

In some cases, there is less difference than you might think. I just finished watching the HBO John Adams, a fictionalization of a biography of the second President of the United States--and, not incidentally, his wife. Now, for obvious reasons, I never met John Adams. While his actions had a pretty direct impact on my life, so far as my personal history is concerned, it doesn't really matter who actually pushed so much for American independence; it matters that someone did. Thus, in many ways, it's just learning about a person in essentially the same way as just learning about, say, Jane Eyre is. Though of course her life would be less important in mine, assuming she were real.

Fiction is another way of understanding what makes us people. Fiction can be another way in understanding a time and/or place not our own--contrary to popular belief, Gone With the Wind isn't a terrible way to learn some about the American Civil War, provided you know to ignore the Reconstruction bits and Scarlett's anachronistic personality. Fiction can be escapism--even if someone's life doesn't necessarily suck, it can be nice to think about having it better or take comfort that someone else has it worse.

Do I consider myself "obsessed" with fiction? Not particularly. However, I would kind of consider myself obsessed with imagination, and fiction's a pretty easy way of stretching it.

tdvance
2010-Jan-17, 02:18 PM
semi-wild theory:

Intelligence in humans evolved from making better and better internal models of the outside world. E.g. an insect's model is pretty simple, in terms of things like: light is something to fly toward, if at first you don't succeed, make a tiny random change and try again, etc.

When it becomes sophisticated enough, sentience emerges.

A side effect would be....this ability to imagine "model worlds" in one's head, along with the desire to do so in order to better model the real world for survival. Combine the two, and fiction stimulates that desire.

Taeolas
2010-Jan-17, 03:11 PM
I agree with tdvance; I suspect that our 'love of fiction' arises from the evolution that let us invent all that we have. To invent something, you basically have to have the capability to imagine "what would happen if I did this?", or to realize that bringing in something else would make a task a lot easier. Fiction is similar in a lot of ways, it's the thought experiments to imagine what would happen if.... While the settings are generally more extreme, the seeds are very similar.

SolusLupus
2010-Jan-17, 03:15 PM
I tend to like fiction above nonfiction. I agree with Taeolas quite a bit on why, although it may go deeper there.

I think there's an innate liking for the exotic in us; that's why fantasy is so famous.

grant hutchison
2010-Jan-17, 04:19 PM
I think Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language may be relevant.
Dunbar's thesis is that grooming behaviour provided the social cement for our common ancestors with the great apes, just as it does for the great apes today. Such behaviour works well in small groups, but becomes unwieldy in large tribal units. For humans (says Dunbar), language provided the option of a sort of "verbal grooming", in which we could exchange a kind of grooming behaviour with a larger number of individuals: we all listen to each other's stories. That allowed the formation of larger societies, individual specialization and all the trappings of civilization which followed.
If (big if) we do have an evolutionary predisposition to gossip, then we have an evolutionary predisposition to be engaged by stories about human behaviour, and a predisposition to model the behaviour of other humans to try to work out how they feel about stuff, and what they're liable to do next. Certainly, we seem to have those skills and interests, whether or not Dunbar's explanation is correct.

So modern fiction seems to me to be a technological way of pushing the "gossip" buttons in our heads. It condenses together all the engaging dramatic stuff about human behaviour, while skipping the dreary quotidian material. It's analogous to the way refined sugar and salty foods in our modern diet push our evolutionary "appetite" buttons.

Grant Hutchison

cosmocrazy
2010-Jan-17, 04:33 PM
I like to have my escape now and then, watch a sci-fi or action adventure movie. I like my sci-fi books also. But the truth is I find reality more amazing. The wonder of the universe and the quantum world is so much more thrilling than any sci-fi story.

Fiction for me is just entertainment, light hearted escapism that allows you to switch off from everyday life relax and let your imagination run. Why do people smoke, drink have hobbies and so on? I think like most things, so long it is not in excess then it can be healthy for your well being. Obviously the dosage required is a personal one.

Larry Jacks
2010-Jan-17, 05:02 PM
... perhaps it's because for most people reality really sucks, and occasional escape is the only thing keeping them sane.

Unlike reality, fiction generally has to make sense. Reality is under no such constraint.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Jan-17, 05:04 PM
A large part of our cultural make-a-human-being kit is taught through stories, with many of the more abstract concepts (justice, liberty, truth) taught by examples in stories rather than by cold definition.

A large part of our daily thinking revolves around storytelling; we're constantly making up stories about the past to try to make sense of it from incomplete information and making up stories about the future to try to foresee the consequences of our acts.

Narrative thinking is the natural mode of thinking for humans, which may well be one of the reasons for so many of the CT's, they make more interesting stories than what actually happened especially when what happened involves people whose motivation isn't understood or technology that's misunderstood, then what actually happened is a story that doesn't make sense and therefore feels wrong.

As you can probably gather, I'm quite in favour of the pan narrans designation rather than the Homo sapiens sapiens sapiens sapiens (or is it only three sapiens'es that's argued for at the moment?) bunk.

hhEb09'1
2010-Jan-17, 05:33 PM
I think Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language may be relevant.
Dunbar's thesis is that grooming behaviour provided the social cement for our common ancestors with the great apes, just as it does for the great apes today. Such behaviour works well in small groups, but becomes unwieldy in large tribal units. For humans (says Dunbar), language provided the option of a sort of "verbal grooming", in which we could exchange a kind of grooming behaviour with a larger number of individuals: we all listen to each other's stories. That allowed the formation of larger societies, individual specialization and all the trappings of civilization which followed.
I'm having a little bit of difficulty with this link between grooming and language, and the creation of society and civilization. I may have to look up that book to see how it is presented.

Is that instead of, or along side, the development of agricullture and economies?

Perhaps you are not representative of the average human. According to wikipedia Avatar cost $237,000,000 to make and has grossed $1,439,375,063. Assuming it costs $15 to see a movie, almost one hundred million people have paid to see it. That is a lot of people!
Unless some have seen it more than once :)

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jan-17, 06:38 PM
I agree with a lot of what has been said.

I would question the word "obsessed" in the thread title. Regular enjoyment of something is not obsession, and I would submit that the more extreme reader is probably better balanced than the more extreme sports fan. Generally you don't see readers damaging property or assaulting people because the book didn't end the way they expected.

Why do we enjoy fiction more than our lives even if our lives don't suck? Well, we only get fragments of our lives most of the time - after you've had an argument with someone, you generally don't get to see them stalk off and cry, or mutter, "I hate him - but deep down I know he's right!" or whatever. Sometimes you find out much later "what happened next" offstage - and when you do, it's often very exciting.

In fiction we get some of the thrill of the life we're less likely to live. I see it as similar to doing snowboarding on a video console - there's the adrenaline rush without the risk of injury, without the cost of travelling to the snow-covered hill, and without the tedium of dragging the snowboard back up the hill each time. In a book you can land on Mars or fight terrorists or fall in love with a Russian countess in the 19th century.

And another wonderful thing you can get from fiction, and that is defamiliarisation. I remember the first time I got this, in the mid 80s, walking through the backstreets of Chichester with a friend, and it occurred to me that I was wasting time reading about fictional cities on alien planets when it was simply amazing that here was I, a human being in the 20th century, walking through a real city built by human beings. I said this out to my friend, who pointed out that my reading of science fiction had given me this appreciation of reality.

grant hutchison
2010-Jan-17, 06:38 PM
I'm having a little bit of difficulty with this link between grooming and language, and the creation of society and civilization. I may have to look up that book to see how it is presented.

Is that instead of, or along side, the development of agricullture and economies?I don't know how "instead of" would work. We have agriculture and economies, after all, so "along side" seem the only possible answer.

Grant Hutchison

SkepticJ
2010-Jan-17, 07:17 PM
The simple answer is because fiction is fun.

Fiction allows us to "experience" events, people and places we otherwise likely wouldn't.

How many of us has personally been involved in a murder case? Been treasure hunting? Explored ecosystems on distant planets?

Unless you're The Most Interesting Person alive, your life can't possibly be as interesting as what you can find in fiction.

Why do people ride roller coasters, parachute, bungee jump? All to escape, for a moment, the banality.

SolusLupus
2010-Jan-17, 07:35 PM
The simple answer is because fiction is fun.

Fiction allows us to "experience" events, people and places we otherwise likely wouldn't.

How many of us has personally been involved in a murder case? Been treasure hunting? Explored ecosystems on distant planets?

Unless you're The Most Interesting Person alive, your life can't possibly be as interesting as what you can find in fiction.

Why do people ride roller coasters, parachute, bungee jump? All to escape, for a moment, the banality.

By this argument, though, 1984 and Neuromancer shouldn't hold as much interest.

While I think that your point has validity, I also think that it goes just a bit deeper than that.

hhEb09'1
2010-Jan-17, 07:46 PM
In fiction we get some of the thrill of the life we're less likely to live. I see it as similar to doing snowboarding on a video console - there's the adrenaline rush without the risk of injury, without the cost of travelling to the snow-covered hill, and without the tedium of dragging the snowboard back up the hill each time. It is true though that some see that tedium as a positive--like the tedium of exercise, or building, or studying.

And, some of that particular tedium has been relieved with the advent of ski lifts.

And another wonderful thing you can get from fiction, and that is defamiliarisation. I remember the first time I got this, in the mid 80s, walking through the backstreets of Chichester with a friend, and it occurred to me that I was wasting time reading about fictional cities on alien planets when it was simply amazing that here was I, a human being in the 20th century, walking through a real city built by human beings. I said this out to my friend, who pointed out that my reading of science fiction had given me this appreciation of reality.Wait a minute, one of the wonderful insights from science fiction is that you're wasting your time reading science fiction? :)

That gives me new appreciation for the movies of Pauly Shore, too, and mahjong.

I don't know how "instead of" would work. We have agriculture and economies, after all, so "along side" seem the only possible answer.Yes, but maybe so far down in the noise that the connection would be unrecognizable. At least, I don't recognize it, but I'm not familiar with the argument. I'm interested though.

clop
2010-Jan-17, 08:23 PM
Why do we enjoy fiction more than our lives even if our lives don't suck? Well, we only get fragments of our lives most of the time - after you've had an argument with someone, you generally don't get to see them stalk off and cry, or mutter, "I hate him - but deep down I know he's right!" or whatever. Sometimes you find out much later "what happened next" offstage - and when you do, it's often very exciting.

I like this. Fiction can put us in an omnipotent position regarding the knowledge surrounding events. We find relief in this, which seems to suggest that we have a fundamental desire to always know what's going on. After all, we start the day by wanting to read or listen to the news even though it's usually unlikely to affect our day in any great respect. Listening to yesterday's news, or reading yesterday's paper, doesn't cut it.

However, we do also enjoy fiction where we don't know everything that is going on, like in movies with twists e.g. The Sixth Sense or with confusing chronology like Memento.

A few years ago I went backpacking in Asia for 12 months and during that time I didn't read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch TV. It was more than a month before I discovered that the US had invaded Kuwait! But the backpacking was exciting and each day was so new and interesting that I had no need for news about places far away. I was too busy experiencing my own adventure.

On long car journeys I like to listen to the radio, usually a talk back station. Since I do not interact with the broadcasters there should be no reason for me to need a live broadcast i.e. why not listen to a tape of yesterday's show? But there's something about the live broadcast that makes the taped version worthless to me.


In fiction we get some of the thrill of the life we're less likely to live. I see it as similar to doing snowboarding on a video console - there's the adrenaline rush without the risk of injury, without the cost of travelling to the snow-covered hill, and without the tedium of dragging the snowboard back up the hill each time. In a book you can land on Mars or fight terrorists or fall in love with a Russian countess in the 19th century.

I can go along with this but it does pre-suppose that humans get enjoyment from experiencing a wide variety of things. I doubt that my cat feels unhappy that she is confined to a life spent sleeping on a bed or lying in the grass.


And another wonderful thing you can get from fiction, and that is defamiliarisation. I remember the first time I got this, in the mid 80s, walking through the backstreets of Chichester with a friend, and it occurred to me that I was wasting time reading about fictional cities on alien planets when it was simply amazing that here was I, a human being in the 20th century, walking through a real city built by human beings. I said this out to my friend, who pointed out that my reading of science fiction had given me this appreciation of reality.

What prompted you to choose the fantasy world over the real world at the beginning? You went from one to the other and back again?

clop

clop
2010-Jan-17, 08:24 PM
I think Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language may be relevant.
Dunbar's thesis is that grooming behaviour provided the social cement for our common ancestors with the great apes, just as it does for the great apes today. Such behaviour works well in small groups, but becomes unwieldy in large tribal units. For humans (says Dunbar), language provided the option of a sort of "verbal grooming", in which we could exchange a kind of grooming behaviour with a larger number of individuals: we all listen to each other's stories. That allowed the formation of larger societies, individual specialization and all the trappings of civilization which followed.
If (big if) we do have an evolutionary predisposition to gossip, then we have an evolutionary predisposition to be engaged by stories about human behaviour, and a predisposition to model the behaviour of other humans to try to work out how they feel about stuff, and what they're liable to do next. Certainly, we seem to have those skills and interests, whether or not Dunbar's explanation is correct.

So modern fiction seems to me to be a technological way of pushing the "gossip" buttons in our heads. It condenses together all the engaging dramatic stuff about human behaviour, while skipping the dreary quotidian material. It's analogous to the way refined sugar and salty foods in our modern diet push our evolutionary "appetite" buttons.

Grant Hutchison

See, it's a scientific issue. How is psychology not a science?

clop

SkepticJ
2010-Jan-17, 08:42 PM
By this argument, though, 1984 and Neuromancer shouldn't hold as much interest.

Why?

Different people find different things interesting.

I, myself, was monumentally bored reading the Iliad and Odyssey for Western Lit.

Someone I know thought they were great--like comics.

I love the movie The Fly (1986), but thought Kafka's The Metamorphosis was boring. No where near Greek Classics-boring, but still something I wouldn't read on my own.

hhEb09'1
2010-Jan-17, 08:51 PM
See, it's a scientific issue. How is psychology not a science?It could be science, and often is.

But speculation isn't science, per se.

SolusLupus
2010-Jan-17, 09:47 PM
Why?

Different people find different things interesting.

I, myself, was monumentally bored reading the Iliad and Odyssey for Western Lit.

Someone I know thought they were great--like comics.

I love the movie The Fly (1986), but thought Kafka's The Metamorphosis was boring. No where near Greek Classics-boring, but still something I wouldn't read on my own.

I'm just saying, introducing yourself into a world where you're in a dingy future world where there's little to offer besides a banal existence or torture/death...

kleindoofy
2010-Jan-17, 09:52 PM
Perhaps you are not representative of the average human. According to wikipedia Avatar cost $237,000,000 to make and has grossed $1,439,375,063. Assuming it costs $15 to see a movie, almost one hundred million people have paid to see it. That is a lot of people!
This quote was not addressed at me, but I would be totally embarrassed, insulted, and devistated if I were ever described as "representative of the average human." Heaven forbid!

One hundred million people have paid to see Avatar. So what?

I enjoy fiction. Moby Dick is fiction. Hamlet is fiction. The Odyssey is fiction. I've read the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice and enjoyed it both times. Most of the other >thousand books I've read were fiction.

Almost every song we hear on the radio has a fictional text. Do we want to hear true life songs? "Oh I loved her, but she filed for divorce in County court on Feb. 13th, 2006, docket number E5-3T67-b, and my lawyer saved 40% of my income, but sent me a huge bill ..."

I think "she got the gold mine, and I got the shaft" sounds better. ;)

And don't forget:

Get in touch with that sundown fellow
As he tiptoes across the sand
He's got a million kinds of stardust
Pick your fav'rite brand, and

Dream when you're feelin' blue,
Dream that's the thing to do.
Just watch the smoke rinks rise in the air;
You'll find your share of memories there.

So dream when the day is through;
Dream and they might come true.
Things never are as bad as they seem,
So dream, dream, dream.

SolusLupus
2010-Jan-17, 09:57 PM
This quote was not addressed at me, but I would be totally embarrassed, insulted, and devistated if I were ever described as "representative of the average human." Heaven forbid!


Misanthropy is the new cool.

Doesn't mean I'm not with you, just saying. ;)

grant hutchison
2010-Jan-17, 09:59 PM
I think Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language may be relevant.
Dunbar's thesis is that grooming behaviour provided the social cement for our common ancestors with the great apes, just as it does for the great apes today. Such behaviour works well in small groups, but becomes unwieldy in large tribal units. For humans (says Dunbar), language provided the option of a sort of "verbal grooming", in which we could exchange a kind of grooming behaviour with a larger number of individuals: we all listen to each other's stories. That allowed the formation of larger societies, individual specialization and all the trappings of civilization which followed.
If (big if) we do have an evolutionary predisposition to gossip, then we have an evolutionary predisposition to be engaged by stories about human behaviour, and a predisposition to model the behaviour of other humans to try to work out how they feel about stuff, and what they're liable to do next. Certainly, we seem to have those skills and interests, whether or not Dunbar's explanation is correct.

So modern fiction seems to me to be a technological way of pushing the "gossip" buttons in our heads. It condenses together all the engaging dramatic stuff about human behaviour, while skipping the dreary quotidian material. It's analogous to the way refined sugar and salty foods in our modern diet push our evolutionary "appetite" buttons.

Grant HutchisonSee, it's a scientific issue. How is psychology not a science?Ummm.
Although you quote me as a preamble to your remark above, I've no idea how I'm supposed to respond. Or even if I'm expected to respond.

Grant Hutchison

Gillianren
2010-Jan-17, 10:25 PM
I can go along with this but it does pre-suppose that humans get enjoyment from experiencing a wide variety of things. I doubt that my cat feels unhappy that she is confined to a life spent sleeping on a bed or lying in the grass.

My cat doesn't have much interest in nonfiction, either. He cares much more about stimuli within the apartment (for example, the stimulus in question was an empty food dish) than about what's going on in the world outside, except the part of it that is prey. It's not a valid comparison.

Jens
2010-Jan-18, 12:07 AM
How about saying it like this: there isn't strictly speaking a difference between fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction in a very pure sense, or reality, is what really exists. But we can never understand it perfectly, so actually everything that we "know" is actually fiction at some level.

The OP asked whether other animals enjoy fiction. I think the answer is positively not, because making a distinction between fiction and non-fiction requires complex language, and only humans have that. To give a simple example, we all probably have heard of some ancestor that we never met, say a great great grandfather. We know some things about the person, but don't really know how true they are. But no other animal would have knowledge about a person who died before they were born. Therefore, no history.

On the other hand, I don't know whether this is true or not, but I can imagine that a zebra being chased by a lion might wish the lion weren't there. If so, then it would be imagining a fictional scenario. But honestly, I don't know if zebras do that or not.

eburacum45
2010-Jan-18, 01:25 AM
I've sometimes imagined that human fiction - in all its bizarre diversity- might be the most interesting thing about our culture as seen from the point-of-view of an alien observer. In fact, if and when we make contact, an advanced alien civilisation might be more interested in our fiction (and maybe other forms of entertainment, especially those that create 'imaginary events') than in any other part of our culture.

If an intelligent alien species has a predisposition to enjoy 'imaginary events' as part of an instinctive desire to gossip amongst themselves, then they may be able to appreciate our own 'imaginary events' in a similar way.

Or maybe not. What do the songs of whales signify to other whales? Are they entirely abstract, and important for the quality of the sounds alone, or do they have symbolic significance? Does any part of that significance concern 'imaginary events'? With very little to go on other than a gut feeling, somehow I doubt it.

If whales do not sing of their hopes and dreams, then maybe fiction and mythologising, the creation of 'imaginary events', is quite specific to the human species after all.

tashirosgt
2010-Jan-18, 01:30 AM
What do you mean?

I think there is a difference between making assumptions about remote events and deliberately enjoying fiction just for the sake of it.

clop

There is no difference. You're just making that up.

SkepticJ
2010-Jan-18, 01:48 AM
I'm just saying, introducing yourself into a world where you're in a dingy future world where there's little to offer besides a banal existence or torture/death...

The worlds are interesting, though. The grittier, the more interesting. The more interesting, the more the potential enjoyment.

Which movie did you like more? E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, or Aliens

The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite of the Star Wars films. Why? The good guys get their posteriors handed to them. You feel for them.
Leia's all, "I love you," Han's like, "I know," freeze, slam on the floor. Drama, baby.

That said, if you actually experienced, in real life, events, people etc. like from the fiction, the enjoyment factor could go down. PTSDed Vietnam vets probably don't go out of their way to watch Platoon.

Jens
2010-Jan-18, 01:51 AM
If an intelligent alien species has a predisposition to enjoy 'imaginary events' as part of an instinctive desire to gossip amongst themselves, then they may be able to appreciate our own 'imaginary events' in a similar way.


Though I can't say this with certainty, I suspect that any advanced civilization will have complex language, and thus will understand and use fiction themselves. Fiction arises automatically when you talk. "Did you hear that noise?" "Yes, I wonder what it is." "Maybe it's a wolf." At that moment, you have lapsed into speculative fiction.

Hugh Jass
2010-Jan-18, 05:19 AM
What drives us to lavish so much attention on unreal life as opposed to real life?
clop



Because we can.

Luckmeister
2010-Jan-18, 06:47 AM
There seems to be a trend today of blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. Docudramas are one example. Another is "reality" TV which is presented as spontaneous but is usually at least partially scripted and otherwise contrived. What a waste! You tune in to watch people create a custom chopper bike and mostly see them pretend to be bickering over who's not doing their part and who's going to control the build. That has become a template for today's TV. To get ratings, they seem to have to turn everything into a Jerry Springer show.

More and more, for fiction I want comedy and for reality I want to further my science education, be it in literature, movies or TV. I have little time for fictional stories of human conflict or morality struggles, and I could happily live out the rest of my life without seeing another movie featuring killing. I'll leave that stuff for the angry youth in today's culture. I'd rather mellow out in my old age. If I'm in a mood for violence, I'll just watch an old Three Stooges flick. :lol:

Mike

SolusLupus
2010-Jan-18, 06:49 AM
There seems to be a trend today of blurring the distinction between fiction and reality.

Wait, this is anything new?

Seriously, this has always been the case.

A song was made about angels being in a battlefield? People accepted that it was true that angels were present.

Someone wrote a biased and untrue account of the Alamo? People assumed it was true.

In fact, I'd say that the trend in the modern times is the opposite; people have always blurred fiction and reality, superstition and reality, but nowadays we're actually growing (on average) more skeptical than in the past.

Just that a minority of us have gone a few steps further.

Spoons
2010-Jan-18, 06:56 AM
More and more, for fiction I want comedy and for reality I want to further my science education, be it in literature, movies or TV. I have little time for fictional stories of human conflict or morality struggles, and I could happily live out the rest of my life without seeing another movie featuring killing. I'll leave that stuff for the angry youth in today's culture. I'd rather mellow out in my old age. If I'm in a mood for violence, I'll just watch an old Three Stooges flick.


I agree 100% with that - so, I'm officially old, on the Luckmeister scale.

Comedy is my only interest in fictional viewing, and that's really just to condense one of my family and/or friends bbqs into a half hour slot.

The housemate put on The Osbournes last night when I was trying to read a biography. Warped reality TV at it's finest. If I want to watch a dribbling idiot who struggles to form proper sentences I'd go sit in front of a... shiny glassy thing... face, looking back... oh... SHAAAROOOOOOON!

Jens
2010-Jan-18, 07:27 AM
In fact, I'd say that the trend in the modern times is the opposite; people have always blurred fiction and reality, superstition and reality, but nowadays we're actually growing (on average) more skeptical than in the past.

Just that a minority of us have gone a few steps further.

I strongly agree, and I think I'd even go a step further and say that the majority of us have gone a few steps further. I think that as you said with the Alamo and other things, people used to listen to stories and didn't make so much of a fuss between fiction and non-fiction. But in our sort of rationalistic worldview we have come to value the difference. So the fact that people complain about the blurring isn't so much because the blurring it getting worse, but rather is a reflection of our own growing disdain for that blurring.

Gillianren
2010-Jan-18, 08:42 AM
I strongly agree, and I think I'd even go a step further and say that the majority of us have gone a few steps further. I think that as you said with the Alamo and other things, people used to listen to stories and didn't make so much of a fuss between fiction and non-fiction. But in our sort of rationalistic worldview we have come to value the difference. So the fact that people complain about the blurring isn't so much because the blurring it getting worse, but rather is a reflection of our own growing disdain for that blurring.

Sayeth Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Honestly, I like mystery novels, which mostly involve some sort of killing. I don't want a real person to be killed, but I liked, in the book I got for Christmas, Kinsey Millhone's following the clues to solve a murder from decades earlier. I like reading and rereading about how Lord Peter Wimsey figured out who the extra body in Lady Thorpe's grave was and how he died. It's in part because I like Kinsey and Lord Peter--and Commander Vimes, of course!--and it's part the intellectual exercise. One of my proudest moments was when I worked out the solution to Have His Carcase a few pages before it was given away, and I'm quite sure it wasn't because I'd seen the BBC production a decade or more earlier, either.

Ivan Viehoff
2010-Jan-18, 10:57 AM
"Because it's fun". There are animals that like fun too. Some friends of mine were once camping wild in New Zealand, and were awoken early in the morning by some parrots enjoying the experience of repeatedly sliding down the sloping side of the tent. Monkeys, dolphins, dogs, cats, etc.

Quite a lot of people like fiction in their non-fiction too, considering how well pseudoscience and other woo sells.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jan-18, 06:25 PM
Another important thing is to keep the fiction credible - and this is all the more important with fantasy and science fiction, because otherwise you end up with something as tedious as a dream account. Less far-fetched fiction needs to keep a rein on coincidences, and characters' behaviour needs to be consistent with their reasonable motivation.

There is an art to doing this. One method (of several) is to begin in the mundane and gradually move further and further away, carrying the reader with it. One can sometimes get as much entertainment admiring the technique as from the story itself.

Fazor
2010-Jan-18, 06:48 PM
If people are soo-obsessed with fiction, then why are there so many reality shows on tv? Hmm?


(...just kidding, obviously)

rommel543
2010-Jan-18, 07:43 PM
I believe that the love of stories, not just fiction, stems from the same reason that our ancestors used story telling to relay their history and beliefs. A good story told well takes the user and makes them feel like they are a part of the events they are hearing/reading about. The listener/reader grows with the characters and learns from the experiences. We empathize with the character and feel enriched from the experience.

As well the idea of fiction stimulates our creative processes. Where would we be if Gene Roddenberry never came up with Star Trek. How many different inventions came about because someone who grew up watching the different series thought to themselves, "Wouldn't it be cool if we had {insert star trek thinky} from Star Trek in real life. I wonder how it would work".

rommel543
2010-Jan-18, 07:44 PM
If people are soo-obsessed with fiction, then why are there so many reality shows on tv? Hmm?


(...just kidding, obviously)

because most of them are scripted fiction anyways....

Gillianren
2010-Jan-18, 08:30 PM
I believe that the love of stories, not just fiction, stems from the same reason that our ancestors used story telling to relay their history and beliefs. A good story told well takes the user and makes them feel like they are a part of the events they are hearing/reading about. The listener/reader grows with the characters and learns from the experiences. We empathize with the character and feel enriched from the experience.

I have noticed that most people who "hate history" do so because they were forced to memorize names and dates without context. When it gets put into a story, people are more interested--and, naturally, remember more.

Fazor
2010-Jan-18, 08:59 PM
I have noticed that most people who "hate history" do so because they were forced to memorize names and dates without context. When it gets put into a story, people are more interested--and, naturally, remember more.

That does hint on something I was going to say earlier: anytime I read or watch some non-fiction, I feel like I have to learn the information. With fiction, it just seems more of a "shut off brain and enjoy" thing.

Which is interesting, as I don't always read or watch non-fiction for anything deeper than entertainment.

clop
2010-Jan-18, 09:42 PM
I have noticed that most people who "hate history" do so because they were forced to memorize names and dates without context. When it gets put into a story, people are more interested--and, naturally, remember more.

It's very true. At school we used to struggle to learn the facts and figures we had to know, but we could recite entire blocks of the previous night's Blackadder (comedy) episode verbatim after only one hearing.

clop

rommel543
2010-Jan-18, 09:58 PM
Thus a story about a great warrior helping out his tribe and people would help teach people more then just ranting on to them about what they should and shouldn't do. "You will grow up and be like Grog the great and help out the tribe", instead of "How many times do I have to tell you.. go out and kill something for food!! Look at little Mog, he provides for his family, why can't you be more like Mog!" ... :D

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jan-18, 10:07 PM
Yes, an idealised version of someone is much easier to aspire to than a warts-and-all honest version. Sometimes, anyway.

Gillianren
2010-Jan-18, 11:05 PM
It's very true. At school we used to struggle to learn the facts and figures we had to know, but we could recite entire blocks of the previous night's Blackadder (comedy) episode verbatim after only one hearing.

Fortunately, the history on Blackadder isn't terrible, though the portrayal of Elizabeth I really is. She was an extremely intelligent, educated woman who was considered squeamish by standards of her time for her dislike of having people beheaded. I can't think why she had it.

Romanus
2010-Jan-21, 12:53 AM
I think fiction serves much the same role in modern society that myths and legends did in pre-modern ones: they're methods of framing the world.