CHAPTER 7. FICTION WILL SAVE US.
We have all heard how important it is for children to read and be read to; it stimulates their verbal skills and their imagination. But as we grow it seems as if it becomes an obligation and that only other activities such as films, videogames and television are entertainment.
Today I come to tell you that all of them are essential to survive as a species.
The premise is simple, when we read or watch a story, our brain makes us represent them in our minds, it obliges us to repeat and construct them, which helps us to imagine how we would feel if we actually experienced them. If we watch content of a couple fighting, it gives us tools to think about possible arguments we could use if we ever had a discussion like that with our own couple. When we saw Cast Away with Tom Hanks, in one way or another we all came to imagine what we would do if we were in his shoes, whether Wilson was absurd or not, if we would be able to fish, if we would have managed better or if we would have died within the first few days.
In other words, living other lives is not a game. It is an evolutionary gain because it allows us to situate ourselves in social interactions that (at least today) are not real, but could be one day. It gives us relevant social information and allows us to better interact with other humans.
In terms of evolution, knowing other realities has allowed our brain to expand. It helps us to react better and more quickly to exterior threats. We could even say that we can “guess” reliable futures (we have already written that we almost always fail to predict the future, but in this case we are referring to things like catching a ball when thrown to us, or move out of the way quickly when someone is going to slap our face).
This is especially accentuated when we read; because we have to “build the set” practically from scratch. It demands greater concentration and at the same time greater involvement. This can explain why we almost always “prefer the book over the movie”. When reading a book we put something of ourselves into it, of our lives, landscapes that seem familiar to us. Our own school if we read that the characters are in primary school; our own grandmother’s home when we read that it is where they are having dinner.
The effect is also deeper when the content is of a “novel genre”, in other words it follows a different pattern from that which is known, or when it is about something out of touch with our reality (Tom Hanks trying to survive a shipwreck is more significant than Julia Roberts falling in love with someone “new” again). This is why we are inclined to read, watch or play videogames of dystopias, suspense, terror or mystery. The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld. All of them have a touch of reality but at the same time they are a parallel universe in which we don’t know what will happen and predicting it is a challenge.
Superhero stories are the biggest blockbusters of modern times. Could it be an unconscious desire to feel safe in the face of everything we know that is bad and can go wrong in this world? Most probably, yes.
In this light, fiction goes from being a useless pastime to a useful mechanism. And our society increasingly makes us feel guilty for taking leisure time and edges us towards productivity. Well, especially now that we are all talking about leisure (last December we didn’t predict the pandemic, but we did predict that this year it was time to be less productive), we can change our own quarantine discourse and (besides focusing on surviving social distancing), focus on what the stories of others offer us. Using films, series, videogames, plays, and novels as a refuge where other lives are being lived.
Cooking is all very well; doing yoga too, going on line to enjoy your favorite musicians and entertainers live is no doubt entertaining; but High Speed Solutions invites you to immerse yourself in fiction these days. Not only as a refuge but who knows, you might find yourself better prepared in the next end of times.
“Literature is not for entertaining or enthralling us.
Literature makes us human”
Based on the text of: Volpi, Jorge (2011) Leer la Mente (Reading the Mind). Alfaguara.