Author Topic: The purpose of fiction  (Read 615 times)

Offline Hydra009

The purpose of fiction
« on: June 05, 2021, 09:49:34 PM »
So I was talking to a friend of mine about movies and TV shows and the conversation veered into fiction in general.  She said something off-hand, I can't even remember the exact words, but it was basically claiming that fiction is at best just a pleasant diversion and that any sort of deep analysis of it is inherently pointless.  My reaction was one of stunned silence.  At the time, I couldn't express how fundamentally I disagree, but now that my words have returned to me, I'll try to argue my case.

So what is the purpose of fiction?  Mere entertainment?  No.  Initially, fiction was created to instruct kids on how to live.  If I told you not to go near the caves because they're dangerous, you might not listen to me.  But if I tell you there was a kid named Mort who went near the caves and sabertooth tigers tore him to pieces slowly as he screamed for hours and hours, that might stick with you better.

Fiction is how societies pass on their values.  The determination of Odysseus, the might of Thor, the self-sacrifice of Jesus, etc.  Conversely, you can tell what people value by the sorts of stories they tell.  For example, let's take Spider-Man.  He's a normal guy who became superhumanly powerful and uses it to help those in need.  He doesn't serve himself, he serves his community.  His most important lesson is "with great power comes great responsibility" - in other words, power comes with the obligation to help others.  The fictional tales of Spider-Man is the vehicle to communicate this lesson.  The fact that he's not a real person is neither here nor there.

Myth and legend is the mortar of civilization - national heroes and national gods helped to unite people into nations.  (And yes, gods are fictional - we just made 'em up!)  And not just civilizations, every society that has ever existed uses fiction to create common values.  Specifically, lessons on how people should live (and not live)

And it doesn't stop there.  Fiction allows us to put ourselves in other people's shoes - to briefly feel what they feel and experience their struggles.  Fiction is both a vehicle for empathy and an engine of "what if?" scenarios, allowing us to both expand our tribe and to anticipate possible future events.

And finally, as Westworld pointed out, fiction shows us "the people we might become".  As we take in these fictional people's struggles, we get a chance to examine ourselves and see the ways in which we might change for the better.

In summary, fiction is the most important human invention ever conceived.  And I intend to die on this hill.

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2021, 10:15:17 PM »
So I was talking to a friend of mine about movies and TV shows and the conversation veered into fiction in general.  She said something off-hand, I can't even remember the exact words, but it was basically claiming that fiction is at best just a pleasant diversion and that any sort of deep analysis of it is inherently pointless.  My reaction was one of stunned silence.  At the time, I couldn't express how fundamentally I disagree, but now that my words have returned to me, I'll try to argue my case.

So what is the purpose of fiction?  Mere entertainment?  No.  Initially, fiction was created to instruct kids on how to live.  If I told you not to go near the caves because they're dangerous, you might not listen to me.  But if I tell you there was a kid named Mort who went near the caves and sabertooth tigers tore him to pieces slowly as he screamed for hours and hours, that might stick with you better.

Fiction is how societies pass on their values.  The determination of Odysseus, the might of Thor, the self-sacrifice of Jesus, etc.  Conversely, you can tell what people value by the sorts of stories they tell.  For example, let's take Spider-Man.  He's a normal guy who became superhumanly powerful and uses it to help those in need.  He doesn't serve himself, he serves his community.  His most important lesson is "with great power comes great responsibility" - in other words, power comes with the obligation to help others.  The fictional tales of Spider-Man is the vehicle to communicate this lesson.  The fact that he's not a real person is neither here nor there.

Myth and legend is the mortar of civilization - national heroes and national gods helped to unite people into nations.  (And yes, gods are fictional - we just made 'em up!)  And not just civilizations, every society that has ever existed uses fiction to create common values.  Specifically, lessons on how people should live (and not live)

And it doesn't stop there.  Fiction allows us to put ourselves in other people's shoes - to briefly feel what they feel and experience their struggles.  Fiction is both a vehicle for empathy and an engine of "what if?" scenarios, allowing us to both expand our tribe and to anticipate possible future events.

And finally, as Westworld pointed out, fiction shows us "the people we might become".  As we take in these fictional people's struggles, we get a chance to examine ourselves and see the ways in which we might change for the better.

In summary, fiction is the most important human invention ever conceived.  And I intend to die on this hill.
I won't kill you on that hill (or any other).  And I do agree that writing was the most important human invention.  But fiction doesn't have a purpose--not inherent purpose, anyway.  I would suggest each piece of fiction has it's own purpose supplied by the author.  Having said that, I may disagree with the author about it's purpose and assign it my own purpose.  It's like life, or art, or beauty--all in the eye of the beholder. 
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent,
Is he able but not willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able or willing?
Then why call him god?

Offline Hydra009

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2021, 11:21:49 PM »
Without fiction, there wouldn't be much to write down.  And writing has its merits - it allowed for the first time for people to communicate to people they'll never meet.  Greetings across vast distances and times.  As Star Wars puts it, "the dead speak!"

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2021, 07:37:04 AM »
Fiction gives lessons, inspiration and all things that might be possible as well as being a springboard for music, film, and visual arts. The trick is to be able to detect fiction when being used for deceit.

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2021, 01:40:18 PM »
Important features of science fiction include sociology, philosophy, and morality. Starship Troopers examines one possible way a society could award the voting franchise. It asks "should it be a given or should a person earn the right to vote?" The Door Into Summer  is, from one viewpoint, at story about an immigrant into a society he knows little about. Stranger in a Strange Land features a person who knows NOTHING about the society he's dropped into against his will. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls point up the problems inherent in trying to "fix" a "broken" society.
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2021, 01:48:32 PM »
Important features of science fiction include sociology, philosophy, and morality. Starship Troopers examines one possible way a society could award the voting franchise. It asks "should it be a given or should a person earn the right to vote?" The Door Into Summer  is, from one viewpoint, at story about an immigrant into a society he knows little about. Stranger in a Strange Land features a person who knows NOTHING about the society he's dropped into against his will. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls point up the problems inherent in trying to "fix" a "broken" society.
I've been drawn to SiFi all of my life because of a) it tells a good story, and b) it is a great platform to talk about social issues.  Heinlein is a master at both of those.  But I did cut my teeth on the Tom Swift series. 
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent,
Is he able but not willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able or willing?
Then why call him god?

Offline Hydra009

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2021, 01:58:50 PM »
I've been drawn to SiFi all of my life because of a) it tells a good story, and b) it is a great platform to talk about social issues.
c) serves as an inspiration - a path humanity could take.  I remember seeing the pocket communicators and PADDs in Star Trek and thinking how cool it'd be to have something like that.  Well, now we do.  The post-scarcity multicultural society is taking a bit longer to come to fruition.  :/

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2021, 02:08:35 PM »
I've been drawn to SiFi all of my life because of a) it tells a good story, and b) it is a great platform to talk about social issues.  Heinlein is a master at both of those.  But I did cut my teeth on the Tom Swift series. 
My first scifi was a compilation of stories published under the title Bullard of the Space Patrol. Pure 1950s fun. Then I, too, found Tom Swift and I was hooked hard.
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2021, 04:43:21 PM »
I have been thinking of writing a Sci-Fi short story where the species currently known as homo sapiens sapiens has become God.

Some people colonize some planets and observe what it is  going on in the world, and people of the world are ignorant of their existence.

Offline aitm

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2021, 04:44:18 PM »
I think sci-fi allows us to examine closely humanities views and opinion of our behaviors and beliefs at a “distance” We can show that our popular beliefs or behaviors can be a bad thing in certain ways and even our darkest secrets can at once be seen as a positive in another way. We are free to pass judgments without passing judgement. The writers get a pass to piss in an idea, behavior, belief or popular movement with relative impunity. Fiction is license to go off the rail.
A humans desire to live is exceeded only by their willingness to die for another. Even god cannot equal this magnificent sacrifice. No god has the right to judge them.-first tenant of the Panotheust

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #10 on: June 06, 2021, 04:53:05 PM »
I think sci-fi allows us to examine closely humanities views and opinion of our behaviors and beliefs at a “distance” We can show that our popular beliefs or behaviors can be a bad thing in certain ways and even our darkest secrets can at once be seen as a positive in another way. We are free to pass judgments without passing judgement. The writers get a pass to piss in an idea, behavior, belief or popular movement with relative impunity. Fiction is license to go off the rail.

Could you please further clarify?

Offline Hydra009

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #11 on: June 06, 2021, 07:53:26 PM »
Could you please further clarify?
Let's say there's an alien race called the Motzis and they consider themselves genetically superior and others genetically inferior, so they waged war against several other planets with the goal of genocide.  Suffice it to say that everyone in this fictional universe really dislikes the Motzis.  But it's just fiction and any resemblance to any real-life ideology or organization is purely coincidental.  Published in 1938.

Offline aitm

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #12 on: June 06, 2021, 08:51:14 PM »
Could you please further clarify?
Well, consider the Star Trek series. They’ve skewered religion practically every time and no one calls them out. They’ve taken on racism and racist behavior in a variety of ways. They have been at the same time critical and glowing of human emotion. They as well are critical and glowing of the Vulcan way of logic sans emotion. They are forced by “law” to allow less than desirable beings to not only exist but to thrive and they have allowed better beings to go about their own path to destruction.

Science fiction allows the evil darth Vader to find his heart again, gives him a sense of forgiveness, when in reality he should have tasted a bitter and painful end.  We are allowed to mock our ideas of patriotism as mere misguided ego, seen how blind obedience easily turns into pure evil and how beliefs can be used as weapon against the weak when it preaches the opposite. The writers have freedom to attack at will any and all “icons” of humanity to make one think.
 The writers, for the very most part are free to dispense whatever lesson they can think of, tweak any ones nose, with...for the most part, impunity.
A humans desire to live is exceeded only by their willingness to die for another. Even god cannot equal this magnificent sacrifice. No god has the right to judge them.-first tenant of the Panotheust

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #13 on: June 07, 2021, 08:03:54 AM »
I think sci-fi allows us to examine closely humanities views and opinion of our behaviors and beliefs at a “distance” We can show that our popular beliefs or behaviors can be a bad thing in certain ways and even our darkest secrets can at once be seen as a positive in another way. We are free to pass judgments without passing judgement. The writers get a pass to piss in an idea, behavior, belief or popular movement with relative impunity. Fiction is license to go off the rail.
"relative impunity"? Like they get published regardless?
We 'new atheists' have a reputation for being militant, but make no mistake  we didn't start this war. If you want to place blame put it on the the religious zealots who have been poisoning the minds of the  young for a long long time."
PZ Myers

Offline aitm

Re: The purpose of fiction
« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2021, 10:28:10 AM »
I mean simply that under the”guise” of sci-fi there is a greater freedom to flout conventional norms. What if Copernicus and/or Galileo wrote a sci-fi about the earth rotating around the sun, sure the church might be skeptical of the claim of sci-fi but it would be considered too outrageous to take seriously. Or if Darwin concocted a story showing how a man came to his wild ass crazy ideas, who knows if they would even object. And if the science was included that proved the sci if right, why that’s just outright crazy amiright?
A humans desire to live is exceeded only by their willingness to die for another. Even god cannot equal this magnificent sacrifice. No god has the right to judge them.-first tenant of the Panotheust