In Defense of Reading Fiction 104. Expand Your Mind.
We’ve discussed how reading helps us live longer, think better, and meet interesting people. Now let’s explore how reading fiction lifts us out of the here and now into realms where the struggle to survive is surpassed by the search for truth, beauty, goodness and the transcendent. A whole different (Technicolor, high definition, surround sound) reality may reside over that rainbow.
Arthur C. Clark wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In fact, reality itself may be indistinguishable from magic. M-theory (a dominant school of modern physics) posits the existence of ten, eleven or more dimensions. We experience only four dimensions: height, width and length mediated by time. How do eleven dimensions play out? How would we experience them?
Francis of Assisi talked to the birds. Do we dismiss him as crazy or sweet (“bless his soul”) or real? Maybe he knew something his contemporaries didn’t. Too bad we can’t ask the birds. How we relate to other people depends on how we relate to reality and what reality we relate to.
In “Transposition”, C. S. Lewis proposed that our attempts to visualize or describe extra dimensional reality is limited by our inability to conceive of more dimensions than we exist in. Perhaps reality is not just more than we imagine, but more than we can imagine.
While we wait for the next Newton or Einstein to make sense of this new frontier, let’s contemplate how eleven dimensions might play out. The edge of the universe isn’t fifteen billion light years away, but right here. Folded inside the four we experience. Extra dimensions may manifest as sufficiently weird to be indistinguishable from magic, spirit or fairy. Or telepathy or cosmic vibrations or whatever. Why not play with that idea?
In writing and reading fiction, people explore what realities may exist beyond what we can measure, weight, taste or touch. Fiction–even magical, supernatural or spiritual fiction–helps us explore the reality behind the reality we see–a reality perhaps not objectively existent, but someone’s conjecture of it. And there–on those pages–our minds meet and converse, perhaps our souls touch.
Recently Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death took me to a desert world roughly analogous to a near-future Sudanese desert. I walked with Onyesonwu as she discovered who she was, what she was and what she could and must do. And the cost. Her world is like and unlike ours in both subtle and fundamental ways, where people could alter their bodies, their surroundings and their destiny, yet it all seemed real and plausible. I learned what has been written can be rewritten.
Every book is an adventure, a surprise, hopefully a gift. Someone dug deep inside and poured out love, hate, fear, passion and hope for us to experience and participate in. Every book pushes the horizon back a little farther. As Arthur C. Clark also wrote, “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
Nothing is impossible in fiction. Reading fiction pushes us gently over the line. Just because it never happened, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Come on in. The water is weird … and wonderful.