Followup to: Failing to Learn from History
There is a habit of thought which I call the logical fallacy of generalization from fictional evidence, which deserves a blog post in its own right, one of these days. Journalists who, for example, talk about the Terminator movies in a report on AI, do not usually treat Terminator as a prophecy or fixed truth. But the movie is recalled – is available – as if it were an illustrative historical case. As if the journalist had seen it happen on some other planet, so that it might well happen here. More on this in Section 6 of this paper.
There is an inverse error to generalizing from fictional evidence: failing to be sufficiently moved by historical evidence. The trouble with generalizing from fictional evidence is that it is fiction – it never actually happened. It’s not drawn from the same distribution as this, our real universe; fiction differs from reality in systematic ways. But history has happened, and should be available.
In our ancestral environment, there were no movies; what you saw with your own eyes was true. Is it any wonder that fictions we see in lifelike moving pictures have too great an impact on us? Conversely, things that really happened, we encounter as ink on paper; they happened, but we never saw them happen. We don’t remember them happening to us.