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Pondering the universe


Experts in useless things

Fiction is entertainment, but there are many who feel a need to provide in-depth analyses of it as if it is real.

Fictional writings and movies can affect many, and so discussing those effects can be beneficial in understanding how they create those effects and what that indicates about our psyches and culture, as Tom van der Linden does with some of his excellent Like Stories of Old videos, and Jonathan McIntosh does in several of his Pop Culture Detective videos. But that is not what this section is about. Instead, it is about people trying to analyse the fictional characters and plots as if they are real, and what that might mean about their psyches.

Our educational systems are predicated upon teaching us about the real world and how to understand it, but also about how to manage it. In understanding systems, we can manipulate them to achieve our goals, and so hopefully improving our lives, though increasingly we are seeing the downside to over-exploitation of nature and people that is leading us to the brink of extinction.

However, applying such rigour to analysing what other people have made up as if they are real is a dubious waste of time, just because made-up stuff doesn't have to obey the laws of nature or even be coherent. Searching for causal relationships across the discontinuities inherent in fictional characters and plots is likely to produce false deductions.

Storytellers are fallible and not all-knowing. They will have only covered what is sufficient to produce an illusion in the minds of their audience. In movies, it is the production designers who flesh out the visuals with the on-camera details that makes the audience willing to suspend disbelief in the illusion. The illusion is broken when we see what really went into producing those details.

Studying the real world is not trivial, and can involve a lot of time and money, especially if it requires specialised instrumentation and skills in designing experiments and analysis of the resulting data. Conversely, studying things that don't really exist doesn't require any of the expense and probably few of the deeper analysis skills, as applying the latter will too quickly discover the myriad of discontinuities, misalignments and mismatches to reality.

But all this is of no concern to those who have so immersed themselves into the illusions, and have a similarly inclined audience, that they carry on as if what they are doing is somehow a worthy endeavour, and will lead to some state of enlightenment for their audience. Or they could be of the exploitative cynical type that sees an opportunity to draw people into their sphere of influence.

Now all this would be just a bunch of people pursuing a distraction from the difficulties of their own lives if were not for the rising belief in bat-shit crazy conspiracy theories that are obviously not real, yet have adherents that are willing to commit physical violence upon those that don't believe them. A lot of the conspiracy theories rely upon supposed causal relationships that just don't stand up to any sort of rational analysis, yet so many are willing to accept them as true, despite contrary evidence.

Indulgence in the fantasies of a fiction writer of entertainment is one thing, but losing the ability to recognise that it is fiction is what leads many to being drawn into the lies that are supposedly reality, which, in the midst of a pandemic, has resulted in massive losses of lives as those people refuse to see the threat to themselves but also the threat they are to those around them.

This is another YouTube rabbit-hole that is best left alone. Read the books or watch the movies, but don't get caught up in useless discussions about them. They really don't have any meaning too far beyond the sentiments that they might tap into. If going to spend any time discussing them, it is better to study why they affect us, rather than the details of their content.

Even the better video channels cited can be a rabbit-hole because they also have an over-emphasis on the video products being seemingly more important to analyse than their producing cultures. The problem is that those products cannot represent the whole of a culture, both because their makers had their own biases, and the medium cannot capture all the significant aspects. Coupled with the biases of the channel makers, that results in at least two sets of filters through which the underlying cultures are viewed, leading to a distorted picture of those cultures if other views are not sought.

In other words, works of fiction tend to be aspirational, much like the so-called historical records that paint a rosy picture of the victors and detract from the losers. Studying such works may be useful, but not if trying to find what life was really like at the time. They are myths, and we know that most myths are just wishful thinking that indulging to any depth will not produce a lot of worthwhile knowledge, much less wisdom.

This is why forensic evidence is sought for clarifying the narratives written by those who documented their own cultures in the past. People embedded in a culture are often blind to many aspects of it, usually through a combination of their own biases due to their position in it and willful ignorance because they don't want to know anything about nor publicise what might lead to the undermining of that position.

The other side of fiction is where characters or situations from it are used as examples when analysing types of people or situations in the real world. This is faulty use of fiction for exactly the same reasons as above: fictional characters are not real people and totally lack the comprehensive and coherent backstory that real people have. A reason even some reputable presenters may use such fictions is because using real people may have legal consequences, but then such use devalues their presentation unless they are using superficial characteristics for illustration only and not analysis.

While a popular series, like Star Trek or The Simpsons may indirectly reflect what is going on in society, being interested in what their take on particular topics is is similarly dubious. These are not authoritative, and opinions or treatment of topics expressed in them are reflections of what the show runners and writers thought might be interesting to their fans. That is, it is opportunistic commentary rather than something to be taken seriously, especially years later. They are designed to make the plots seem relevant without actually meaning anything. These are not documentaries citing real facts.

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