Overcoming Fiction

We love fiction, in novels, movies, plays, TV, and so on.  But fiction is made up; it is not true.  Worse, storytellers have lots of standard tricks to get us to draw the conclusions they want about their fictional worlds.  Tricks use character beauty and wit, camera angles, particular consequences emphasized, and much more. 

We do try somewhat to not let fiction overly influence our beliefs about the real world.  But surely we fail in many ways; the task is just too hard.  How can we do better?

One approach is to prefer apparently true stories, such as biographies, news articles, reality TV, or grampa’s war stories.   Of course lots of fiction slips in, but at least these can be fact-checked. 

Another approach is alternate versions of standard stories.  Check out The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Wicked, and The Case for the Empire.   I’d love to see bias-reversed movies portray the same events as a famous movie, but change the standard storyteller tricks to make us draw a very different conclusion.  Imagine It’s A Wonderful Life from the view of Mr. Potter, or if E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was really a scout for an alien invasion.  The lack of interest in bias-reversed stories suggests we aren’t that interested in overcoming fiction biases. 

Many people seem to think our ancestors’ fiction was less realistic than ours, suggesting we are making progress toward reducing fiction biases.  I am suspicious of this claim; the fact that no one seems to have bothered to try to measure it suggests to me people don’t really believe it.

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