foliumnondefluet: (Default)
[personal profile] foliumnondefluet
I think a lot has been said about the reality of fiction, but not so much about the fiction of reality. I may have mentioned before that I believe "reality is fictional", but I should probably qualify what I mean by that. When I say "fiction" I do not mean it in the sense of "the opposite of real" but rather, an imaginatively created, made-up story. What I mean with reality is what is true and has meaning.

I do not propose to deny the existence of a physical reality. But a lot of what we tend to think of as hard physical facts are for the most part based on abstractions that do not *actually* correspond to anything that has concrete existence. For example, when I say "according to the wall thermometer, the temperature in my kitchen now is 19°C", this may seem like an objective, factual, "real", and true statement. It is, in the sense that I do not lie about it. I just went into my kitchen and looked at the thermometer. But it is also largely fictional, in that almost everything in the phrase corresponds to made-up concepts that have no concrete existence, and I don’t just mean the obvious observation that temperature refers to a statistical average of molecular motion. Even the simple concept of "my kitchen" is based on at least three fictions: the space partially enclosed by walls (which themselves are mostly empty space with some agitated atoms in it), and largely cluttered by appliances is not "a kitchen" in any concrete, intrinsic sense; neither is the cluster of transient processes that I refer to as "me" a concrete existence (All phenomena, including persons, are empty of any unchanging, isolated essence because of their dependence upon a network of causes and conditions from which they cannot be separated); and the "kitchen" belongs to "me" only in the context of an elaborate set of made-up social conventions.

It has behavioural implications also: if someone says something that they don't mean to be nasty, but I read it as nasty, is it nasty or not? It has no inherent value of nastiness. But I have perceived it as being nasty, so it is. Also, they have perceived it as being not nasty, so it isn't. There's only nasty-to-me and nasty-to-them, no inherent property that one can verify with one's senses. I think getting along with someone is in a large part a question of willingness to synchronise your story with the other person's story. If they say they didn't mean to be nasty, you can integrate that in your story, even though you were hurt by what they did. Or if something is a big deal to them, you can try to see what makes it so important even though it might not be a big deal to you...

What I’m saying is that "physical reality" is devoid of truth and meaning. If I remove all the made-up fictionalization of my statement, I remove all meaning from it at the same time. Point x in space at time t has a temperature of T – this doesn’t *mean* anything. So how can it be true, how can it be real? Only by "fictionalizing" can facts acquire truth and meaning. "It’s freezing outside but I’m cozy" is not fact. It’s a story. It therefore has meaning. Insofar as I am able to tell it well, its truth and meaning would be all the stronger and more poignant.

A winter morning,
A lone rimed rose,
I long for hot tea.

Another way to look at it is through the relation of "reality" to time – not ask "what is real" but "when is real". The past exists only as history – story. We can only relate to the past through story, accounts fictionalized of necessity, if only by limited scope and viewpoint. The future exists only as a dream, a promise… a fiction. The only "reality" we can experience is the infinitely fine edge between past and future. And by the time you’ve seen it, it’s gone already. People sometimes refer to "consensus reality", but the reality about which a consensus exists already belongs to the past.

Almost everything of meaning is fictional; faith, hope, love… Chemical states in our brains do not have intrinsic meaning, but the stories we make up about them do. And much of our interpersonal success seems based on finding people willing to hear our story, suspend their disbelief, and take part in it... whereas much conflict and sorrow results from not acknowledging others as having stories that are very compelling and meaningful to them.

Even if I died today, nothing "factual" of importance would change. I certainly wouldn’t be there to notice. Some made-up ownership claims would be shuffled. Anybody else would only notice my absence by referring to past memories – history, story, fiction. And it would only mean anything insofar as anyone cares about a made-up story in which my existence features in some meaningful way. If everyone forgot about that part of their stories, that would be the end of my existence; the fictional one, the one that has meaning, therefore the only one that is real.

Perhaps it is possible to look at the world without making up stories about it. One of the main tenets of Buddhism, as I understand it, is that suffering is caused by attachment to made-up stories. If we could just stop getting attached to our made-up stories about reality, or even just stop making up stories at all, we’d be forever at peace, free of joy and sorrow, pleasure and suffering… In that case I'll probably never be a good Buddhist, because I believe making stories is what humans do. Or maybe that's putting it a bit too simplisticly; the tenet is rather something along the lines that frustration arises from clinging to delusional notions about reality and thereby expecting impossible things. So our stories themselves shouldn't be a problem as long as we known them for what they are.


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June 2015

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