0320 - Right behind you. - 2023.11.20



As many have noted, Truth is stranger than Fiction because Fiction is obligated to make sense. Reality, like the wilderness, like the bottom of the ocean, like outer space, like the inexorable march of time itself... it is not optimized for the human body or mind. The more we retreat into indoor spaces that are customized to our needs and comforts, the more an indifferent universe will seem strange and inconvenient and unfair to us.

There are those who would, as a counter to this, insist that we need to prod people out of their "comfort zones" and "safe spaces". Surely, some time breathing clean air in the outdoors will uncurl the stunted growth, hampered by boxes and cushions! Surely, we must confront the universe as it Truly Is!

I would disagree, however. The artificial world is no less real than the "real" world - cities do exist, after all, and much can be created and observed from within civilization that wandering in the forest will simply never reveal. We already know all too well what happens at the end of a "real" life. Certainly, we know what happens to a human in the Marianas trench or in orbit, deprived of the comforting safe space of breathable oxygen.

Am I comparing civilization to fiction? Of course I am. They're both created by human hands and human minds for human purposes. They've both evolved and developed and diversified over the millennia. The vast majority of us couldn't survive without them.

And the so-called "Truth" itself is a type of fiction, is it not? Truth is not merely existence, it is information about that existence that has been encoded somehow, and all recording media necessarily simplify and compress. A photo is not the Grand Canyon, regardless of its fidelity. Your cat wouldn't recognize it as anything other than a rectangular piece of cardstock. The same is likely true of most extra-terrestrial intelligence or AI. That "Truth" is only true for the eyeballs for which it has been optimized.

The average human being has one testicle.

That sentence is true (with appropriate statistical caveats), yet the picture it creates in the mind is not. Truth is not only, at times, stranger than Fiction, it can also be more untrue than Fiction, particularly by purporting to be Truth.

I remember hearing about how tourists to Jerusalem often clamour to see the "real" sites of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan, despite the fact that those parables, in the Bible itself, are explicitly presented as stories that Jesus was making up. Confusing fact and fiction is not a new problem.

The real question is - what is more damaging: allowing Fiction to colour your perception of Reality, or allowing Reality to blind you to the purpose of the Fiction?


0320 – 2167/07/07/09:36 – Rosenthal College hex
LC: I’m aware that fiction is not the real world, Zoa. That is not a lesson that I need to learn.
CP: N-n-not counting the role and d-duties of the m-modern military, I guess...
Zoa: True, but your brain adapts to the environment it spends the most time in. If you spend more time immersed in fiction than you do in reality, aren’t you subconsciously training your brain to react to that world?
LC: Oh, I don’t like the sounds of that. Are you really saying I should be interacting with strangers in public for more hours per day than I watch TV? Because… that’s a lot of hours.
CP: P-perhaps you could just… switch to more realistic entertainment.
Zoa: Nah, even documentaries are edited, the cadence of events and the emotional ups and downs are just as artificial.
CP: If you w-want an entertaining activity that… that still involves the uh… cadence of real p-people, m-might I recommend r-roleplaying? There are groups online that you could sign up for, with… with all sorts of plots and genres and… and stuff. You wouldn’t have to leave your apartment!
Zoa: Ooh, and some of those games are adult in nature, yes?
CP: I w-wouldn’t know.
LC: I mean, if it’s just the structured nature of events in fiction that’s the problem, maybe I should just watch TV shows with the scenes in random order. Y’know, scramble me up, make my brain adapt to arbitrary sequences of events!
CP: That… would p-probably retrain your brain, yes, although perhaps n-not in the way that you would like.
LC: As long as it keeps me from embarrassing myself by assuming that horrible people are right behind m-
PH (coming up behind them): Mezzer Caldavera, what a surprise!
Zoa: Y’know, maybe those TV shows are onto something...