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Paradox Of Fiction


Celsus
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I would like to start a discussion on the "Paradox of Fiction" and how it related to skepticism. The Paradox of Fiction is summarized as:

 

These premises are (1) that in order for us to be moved (to tears, to anger, to horror) by what we come to learn about various people and situations, we must believe that the people and situations in question really exist or existed; (2) that such "existence beliefs" are lacking when we knowingly engage with fictional texts or movies, etc.; and (3) that fictional characters and situations do in fact seem capable of moving us at times.

 

How many of us have been moved, emotionally invested in the characters of a fictional book or in a movie? All of us I would guess. I find it interesting to look at why people do get emotionally invested in fiction and why it does move us to laugh, cry, be sad, be happy, etc. As a rational person, I know if I am watching a movie or reading a book and something moves me to an emotional respose, it is still not real. The fact that it is fictional has no bearing upon my emotional response, for some reason my brain reacts as if it is real.

 

I would guess that it has to do with our evolved ability to put ourselves in another's position. Much like a person who see another get hurt, can visualize the pain, it is automatic, not based upon rational thought. But more importantly to me at least, is the deeper issue this raises about what is real and what is not real. Everything we perceive is filtered by our physical sense organs and interpretted by our human brains. When I have these reactions, I now fully think out and am skeptical about why I am reacting thusly. My skepticism and use of logic dod not come naturally, nor did it come easily. Both were skills I had to be trained in and train myself in using.

 

Is the problem is dealing with people of low skepticism (people who are credulous and believe things like an invisible, magical sky being loves them, or that astrology is valid, etc.) that they choose to not or can't overcome their emotional responses with logic and skepticism? If so, what does this imply concerning worldviews?

 

I was once a serious believer in God and a Christian, I am now an Atheist. Based upon my discussions and debates with believers in real life and on internet venues, I really think it is not so much about one sie is logical and the other is not, although that plays a part in some instances. For instance, I have seen Christians that can and do use cold, hard logic to demolish the claims of Islam, Astrology, etc. but then turn around and can't or won't use that same methodology on their own beliefs.

 

What I think is going on is that those who believe in the supernatural/superstitious are actually living in another reality. The reality they perceive seems to be one of emotional states being paramount, at least in regard to their own beliefs. A typical Atheist or Naturalist, in my experience, tends to live in a reality where emotional states are looked at critically and logic/reason are paramount. Make no mistake about it, this is about how different people perceive reality. I have heard a milion times, "God is the light" or other such analogies. But stop and ask what does this mean to a person blind since birth? I would argue nothing, it is meaningless because the blind person lives in a reality where the concepts of light and dark have no meaning whatsoever.

 

Thoughts from the masses?

 

Bruce

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But more importantly to me at least, is the deeper issue this raises about what is real and what is not real. Everything we perceive is filtered by our physical sense organs and interpretted by our human brains. When I have these reactions, I now fully think out and am skeptical about why I am reacting thusly. My skepticism and use of logic dod not come naturally, nor did it come easily. Both were skills I had to be trained in and train myself in using.

Reality may exist outside humans but cannot be known absolutely by them. It will always be an individual’s perception of reality, or at best a mutually agreed upon interpretation of it, but never an absolute knowledge of it. I think the question really is what is the purpose for our "understanding" what is real and what is fiction? Is the emotion evoked from on a fictional story an invalid emotion? I would argue it is a real as any emotion.

 

I wonder if the question should be what is belief? If we are to take those emotions and act on them in someway that has consequences, then what is need to be examined is the basis for the belief about what is evoking feelings that are compelling actions. If the belief that love is the most powerful ideal in the world compels someone emotionally to act benevolently towards others, then is belief in some intangible concept or story something to be shunned? But if that same belief compels someone to walk into a terrorist camp in the belief that a good heart will melt away all malice in the world, I would think they had better examine their emotions in light of rationality!

 

Is using fiction or mythology always a bad thing because it's not based on a rational examination of reality? Is that perception of reality invalid at all times? If so, why is rational skepticism always the best way in all cases?

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As a rational person, I know if I am watching a movie or reading a book and something moves me to an emotional respose, it is still not real. The fact that it is fictional has no bearing upon my emotional response, for some reason my brain reacts as if it is real.

 

I would guess that it has to do with our evolved ability to put ourselves in another's position. Much like a person who see another get hurt, can visualize the pain, it is automatic, not based upon rational thought. But more importantly to me at least, is the deeper issue this raises about what is real and what is not real.

 

I have a close friend who doesn't read fiction and rarely cries at films, she views reading novels as a waste of time, and is only interested in reading 'true life accounts' of something. We have had several heated exchanges about the fact that on many levels there is no such thing as a 'true life account' of anything and my opinion that an emotional response to a fiction is as 'real' as an emotional response to a 'fact'.

 

But whilst I have always hoped that I've known the difference between fact and fiction, I did of course suspend my ability to make this distinction when it came to christianity for most of my life. I think that one of the reasons I have felt less angry during my deconversion than some is that I still find value in the emotional responses I have had to many of the 'stories' of christianity. I still find value in what I learnt about myself in terms of my emotional response to things like redemption or unconditional love - and the fact that I once believed that the stories that triggered these emotional responses were historic events only causes me a little embarrassement - it changes little else.

 

My friend has also recently left the christian fold - she is full of rage for the 'book of lies' - and the main focus of her anger is that the Bible is 'made up'. I find it really hard to understand this from her perspective.

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As a rational person, I know if I am watching a movie or reading a book and something moves me to an emotional respose, it is still not real. The fact that it is fictional has no bearing upon my emotional response, for some reason my brain reacts as if it is real.

Perhaps it does. Perhaps the fact that it is fictional heightens your emotional response. Your rational mind is fully aware that you're safely in a cinema, or lying on the couch, and that what you are reading or viewing is not real and there are no real threats to your existence, so it has a rest and allows your emotional mind to have some fun for the next hour or so.

 

Emotions can be irrational anyway (depending on your world view). Even the Christians will admit this. A new Christian might be told by their mentor not to trust their emotions when they don't 'feel' saved. Believe in the 'facts' and the faith will follow, or something like that.

 

I'm no expert in this. These are just some of my thoughts.

 

(hey, 500th post. kewl...)

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I think that one of the reasons I have felt less angry during my deconversion than some is that I still find value in the emotional responses I have had to many of the 'stories' of christianity. I still find value in what I learnt about myself in terms of my emotional response to things like redemption or unconditional love - and the fact that I once believed that the stories that triggered these emotional responses were historic events only causes me a little embarrassement - it changes little else.

 

My friend has also recently left the christian fold - she is full of rage for the 'book of lies' - and the main focus of her anger is that the Bible is 'made up'. I find it really hard to understand this from her perspective.

 

Alice:

 

I can really relate to what you are saying here. Although I grew up in a home being taught early on about all the mythology within the Bible - I have been able to move through different periods of my spiritual life without undo anger. There was a very long period of my life I would have considered myself Diest, now I consider myself Christian. I have been able to move from one period to the other and through them without anger at the "fiction" within the Bible. I guess it's because I was raised to look at the Bible differently - never as an historical document. I've always been free to explore my inner self (and the soul of humanity as well) through the stories of the Bible.

 

I struggle with the anger people have towards the Bible as a "book of lies". Less so - since I've participated in this board because I now understand where the anger comes from.

 

Now - I struggle with anger towards literalism of any kind - I don't understand that type of thinking.

 

Literal thinking allows a person to take emotion and treat it as fact.

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I think the question really is what is the purpose for our "understanding" what is real and what is fiction? Is the emotion evoked from on a fictional story an invalid emotion? I would argue it is a real as any emotion.

 

I wonder if the question should be what is belief?

 

Antlerman, I may be wrong... wouldn't be the first time... and I am interested in your opinion. I have changed my mind about a lot of things here.

 

I 'think' the original bible was an attempt to be a book of history, psychology, and science... as they perceived it to be at that time. The manuscript from which the KJV was taken is quite different than the present english translations, IMO. These original ideas got hijacked, much like St. Nicholas to Santa Claus, only moreso.

 

Mankind stopped being nomadic about 8,000 BC, started a structured language about 10,000 BC, and started writing (cuneiform) about 3,000 BC... so things were quite 'elementary' in those days. Perhaps about 4,000 BC mankind did start giving names to the animals? Perhaps now that nomadic life made a transition to a more stable life, males and females were recognized differently and more specific roles were given to each? Maybe there was a flood somewhere, sometime? Sure, a lot of history's myths got shuffled into these teachings... however, I think the emphasis was to act as a fable, wtih a lesson to better mankind.

 

Extra free time, with the abundance of food brought by new agricultural abilities allowed man to ponder deeper ideas, bringing them to a self actualized state. Maybe they thought these new unselfish ideas coming into their head was 'God' talking to them. Maybe this 'religous mentality' evolved to a rediculous position, much like today, away from rational reality and benefits. I think that is where the original protesters to this Jewish thinking arose, what we now call the 'initial' Christians. I think they were a lot like the people on this site now!

 

It seems to me the new message of this Christian cult was that god is not out there somewhere, but within us. We too are gods. God works through us. Also, to think with reason! This may be the first movement towards an Atheist mentality. However, the main thread through it all is to always give reverence for that which we hold sacred, that aspect that finds us with awe, that which harbors those feelings of love and compassion along side of each person's accountability and responsibility for their actions. This initial 'Christian' cult has obviously spun out of reason, just as the Pharisee movement did! Maybe some aspect of our human nature? Maybe we are here now, on this site, correcting it again, bringing new ideas with contemporary rational thinking?

 

So, why can't our spiritual beliefs be evolving all the time just like our scientific ones? :shrug:

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So, why can't our spiritual beliefs be evolving all the time just like our scientific ones? :shrug:

I agree that human's spiritual beliefs are always evolving. Fundamentalists are about opposing this. Ironically though they will deny this, even those who claim to be believing the "original" or fundamental doctrines, truly cannot lay claim to that realistically, nor point in history to any static beliefs being taught. It's a fallacy. The fundamentalist's beliefs evolve too, which is why you have so many denominations of "fundamentalist" beliefs.

 

Those who live in the real world, where everything is always changing and evolving, are those who can evolve along with new ways of perceiving the world in light of different insights, both rationally and metaphysically. This is the result of living in an ever-shrinking global society. The severities of backlashes we are seeing today are the result of the rate of change in perception that is occurring. Fundamentalism is allowed to be what it is because mainstream society itself makes use of it for creating a dialog about slowing down change and allowing the middle to catch up.

 

I think where this relates back to Bruce's original post:

 

What I think is going on is that those who believe in the supernatural/superstitious are actually living in another reality. The reality they perceive seems to be one of emotional states being paramount, at least in regard to their own beliefs. A typical Atheist or Naturalist, in my experience, tends to live in a reality where emotional states are looked at critically and logic/reason are paramount. Make no mistake about it, this is about how different people perceive reality. I have heard a milion times, "God is the light" or other such analogies. But stop and ask what does this mean to a person blind since birth? I would argue nothing, it is meaningless because the blind person lives in a reality where the concepts of light and dark have no meaning whatsoever.

 

Those who use the language of mythology do have a different perception of reality they live within, yet at the same time they part of a society that speaks another language they must reconcile into their reality. In the same sense as those who hearing "God is Light" have no way of relating what that language means in a purely rational perception of the external world, those hearing that all there is is the material world, equally have difficulting finding meaning in that within a language system which creates a perception of higher purpose in the external world.

 

Because we live with both language systems, it seems to me that finding a workable synthesis of these very human responses to the external world is more workable of a solution than to try to drive out one language system in favor of another. Wouldn't it be equally as "irrational" to try to eliminate a language of perception that humans found cause to create in the first place, as those who try to drive out a language of rational science? It seems it's really about finding a way to live together, and evolution of language to speaks to both aspects of being human.

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It seems it's really about finding a way to live together, and evolution of language to speaks to both aspects of being human.

 

Don't you think we are evolving into doing this...

 

perhaps maybe not as fast as some of us would like? :wicked:

 

 

 

Thanks for your prior response, very insightful, as always. :thanks:

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It seems it's really about finding a way to live together, and evolution of language to speaks to both aspects of being human.

 

Don't you think we are evolving into doing this...

 

perhaps maybe not as fast as some of us would like? :wicked:

I'm not sure how sucessful we are with it yet, but I think the process is occuring. Radicalsim will drive a counter response into a foward direction. Again I think it's about what society hopes to accomplish. I believe social evolution is driven by a biological necessity of survival. If we want to survive, we will have to find a way to talk to each other. Science is not about "meaning" or "purpose" in life. Religion is not about the natural world and how things happened or work within it. What's needed is a philosophy that acknowledges both "truths" and allows them to work together in the individuals life, in their immediate societes, and within a global community.

 

I'm thinking people just need to loosen their grip on their perception of the world to allow for other ways of understanding. A rock is many things.

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This thread reminds me of a lot of the newer, progressive christian churches - where going to church is a kind of ecstatic experience.

 

The entire service (from the music to the altar call) is scripted to promote a group emotional reaction. Young people are especially susceptible. There are tears and shouts of joy and excitement and introspection. When the whole charade is over, everyone leaves feeling like they have had a very real experience.

 

Very much like going to see a good movie.

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This thread reminds me of a lot of the newer, progressive christian churches - where going to church is a kind of ecstatic experience.

 

The entire service (from the music to the altar call) is scripted to promote a group emotional reaction. Young people are especially susceptible. There are tears and shouts of joy and excitement and introspection. When the whole charade is over, everyone leaves feeling like they have had a very real experience.

 

Very much like going to see a good movie.

What you are referring to is emotionalism. I was in church that was all about that: Penetcostalism. Emotionalism and Pentecostalism is about manipulation of emotions for a "high", like sniffing glue for a thrill.

 

What I was referring to in the emotional part of being human is not that. I am refering to along the lines of seeing the Aesthetic in something, the sense of inspiration, a different perception of reality that adds color and dimension to the experience of living. This is a function of art. Art is not about emotionalism. Art is about a perception of life.

 

There's a quote I read somewhere back that said, "The best poem is one where your head is in the clouds, while your feet are on the ground." Pentecostalism is about being jerked off, not about the tapping into the potentials of the human spirit.

 

BTW, where's Bruce in this thread?

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I am back, sorry but I do have a life ouff the interent.

 

The larger point I was attempting to make is that it appears to me that religion affects the same response that fiction does in general. Whether the Christian/Muslim/Hindu, etc. beliefs are real or not does not lessen the emotional impact it has. The result is that these beliefs and the stories told about them elicit the same emotional response that is seen in the Paradox of Fiction. Because of that, many believers equate their emotional feelings with it being real. As my mother said to me, "You will not get me to say Jesus is not real, even though you have all this logic behind your arguments because, I know Jesus lives, he lives within my heart".

 

Bruce

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