ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Believing Is Seeing

Our biological propensity to fictionalise the world makes reality a shared belief, not a fact or a mere aggregation of experiences.

Every once in a while, my scientist friends will disparage my vocation. “Fiction? Poetry?,” they will sneer, “what a waste of time!” My scientist friends invest in non-fiction. Biographies, histories, philosophy, science, architectural tomes, treaties about the environment, and even books on football and diet, they claim, are far more superior to novels and poems, because, as one of them kindly informed me, “nonfiction is in the business of telling the truth about the world, whereas fiction and poetry perpetuate nothing but lies.” Usually, I roll my eyes, but sometimes a comment affects me enough that I respond.

I wrote an article “Lessons from Literary History: Texts That Changed the World” when one of my friends declared that by virtue of living in the real world—which is built upon the backs of real people, doing real things—one ought to be discouraged from reading fiction. She described fiction as a collection of whimsical and subjective make-believe. She opposed it to non-fiction, to peer-reviewed factual accounts of reality. In my article, I delineated a number of instances in which real life (the real people who propel the world into different trajectories, and the real events that they trigger) was influenced by poetry and fiction.

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