The Purpose of Fiction


In certain circles, the process of writing fiction - or even reading it - is criticised as, essentially, a waste of time.


After all, why would we wish to write about things that never happened?

And what can we possibly learn from these silly flights of the imagination?


If our desire is to learn about the world around us, it seems obvious that our first points of call will be either direct experience, or factual literature - i.e history, science, biography etc. This is where we are presented with literal truths. Or "real" life. And, at the same time, if we are reading purely for pleasure or entertainment sake - then, again, doesn't real life have enough entertaining stories itself?


Why do we need to turn to these other worlds?


The answer, i believe, is twofold.





Firstly, in simple psychological terms - every single human alive has a distinct creative urge within them. Something which calls us to dream - and, also, to seek new ways of understanding the world around us.


The source of this creative urge is perhaps better left for a different conversation. (Certainly, it is something scientists and philosophers have been debating for millennia. )

But, nevertheless, through mediums such as art, music, literature, food, work, building businesses, scientific experiments, mathematics, sports, solving problems, or even through the cultivation of our own persona. . . this urge to create is what drives us all.

Which means that, on some level, we are designed with this knowledge that the material world alone – in it’s current form – is not enough to satisfy us.


Not only is there much more to this reality than first appears to our senses - but, the uniqueness of human life, is that we also are able to create more with it still. To use what we have been given as the building blocks of creating something better.


Thus, writers turn to fiction just as architects turn to building, or mystics turn to Alchemy. In essence, to express the most natural side of being human. Turning base materials, into something beautiful.


But, this is just the beginning.


Because, as much as fiction satisfies our creative urge - it would still be essentially pointless if it did not also have some deeper educational purpose too.

And here lies the second reason for why fiction is so important to us.


Our desire for knowledge is inextricably linked to our creative urge.

They fuel one another, just like a seed to a flower - a flower to a fruit - a fruit to a seed - and back again.


This is seen on two fronts.

Internally – when we find ourselves asking questions like; "who am i?" "Why am i here" "What should i be doing?"

And, then, in the external world too, when we ask "why does this world exist?" "How are things made this way?" "How can we build a fairer society?" "What is just . . . or moral . . . or evil?"


But, though our human nature is full of questions, and we are so naturally desirous of truth - there is a problem.


Our ego – which seeks to protect us from unknown dangers – often makes it hard for us to really accept a truth; especially when it is given to us by someone else.


To highlight this, allow me to use a quick example.

In academic fields - for example medicine, mathematics, or engineering etc - we are given hard facts; which are, for the most part, impersonal. Therefore, it doesn't matter who tells us that 2+2=4 - because the result is self evident. And our ego does not even come into play.


Whereas - when we are dealing with questions of our own psychology. Or when we discussing matters of ethics, morality, metaphysics, or any of these other deep personal questions. Suddenly, our ego has it's guard up.

Suddenly, we do not like anybody telling us how to think, or what to do - unless they have earned our respect first. (And perhaps not even then, depending on the strength of our egoism)


Thus, to paraphrase Carl Jung; philosophical truth is often only bearable to us at all if we discover it for ourselves.


And this is exactly where fiction excels - even above non fiction.

For it allows us to discover philosophical or psychological truths for ourselves. Without feeling like we are being preached at, or patronised.


While non fiction often feels like an author telling us; "This is the way things are . . . this is how you should think . . .and if you don't think like this, you are wrong!"

Fiction is more like being asked; "What do you think of this? How does this make you feel, given what you already know? And have you ever considered this from a different perspective?"

And then, it is left up to us as individuals; to think for ourselves, use our creativity, and to come upon our own answers.


This is why i strongly disagree with any suggestion that fiction is a pointless or ineffective medium.


In fact, i would argue that it is absolutely vital to the human experience.

Allowing for the expression of our creative urge

The transmission of our wisdom

And the catalyst by which we might learn more for ourselves, or discover our own wisdom.


It is no coincidence that every great intellectual society - from the Egyptians and Greeks, to the Mayans, Babylonians, Native Americans, Aborigines, Amazonians, Maasai and Celts - all had their own equally profound mythologies.

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