Nice homepage promoting eugenics, Tim Tyler.

Can we please get this clown's comments banned?

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I use fantasy as a substitute for recreational drug use.

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I think the fact that they're basically separate means that any effect is indirect and depends partly on the person.

Dogs and Stocks: Substitutes or Complements?

Does exposure to stocks tend to increase or decrease our ability to see dogs as they are?

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This is exactly the criterion that I use to judge literature. Good literature teaches you more about how the world works. Bad literature generally reinforces popular views to the point of dysfunction.

This is a data-driven theory; I arrived at it after years of puzzling over the fact that there were some books that I really enjoyed, like Tom Clancy or Robert Jordan novels, that I still thought were not very good books; and books that I didn't "enjoy" very much, like Dostoyevsky novels, that I thought were excellent. Although I loved reading Robert Jordan novels, I forgot them almost immediately afterwards. By contrast, I would often find myself drawing analogies between something in a good novel and something in my life. So I decided to judge a novel by how often I was reminded of it by real life.

For example, in love, there are certain counterproductive habits and attitudes common to women, and others common to men. A woman who learns about love from romance novels, or a man who learns about love from porn, will be worse off than before, because these genres give women and men pleasure by pandering to these bad habits. Romeo and Juliet is quite different, but also dysfunctional: it portrays love as only for the very young; instantaneous rather than being grounded in any qualities of the beloved; perfect and needing to overcome only external obstacles rather than any friction between the lovers themselves; and inevitably destructive. These and other popular works, like politicians, make people feel good about themselves by justifying the beliefs they are most defensive about - which are, not coincidentally, the beliefs most likely to be unjustified. Real life events rarely remind one of these dysfunctional narratives.

Catch-22, by contrast, was a good book for me. At a time in my life when parents, church, and school were all teaching me to respect authority, tradition, and the Proper Way of Doing Things, Catch-22 gave me a glimpse of the man behind the curtain.

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I'd agree with Eliezer on the idea that happiness depends on being able to appreciate the world that you live in, regardless of its laws. In a world where you can quickly manipulate underlying structure for quick satisfaction, the desire to understand more or improve (for humans at least) is quickly ignored because you can quickly achieve what you want.

In Terry Pratchett's 'The Last Hero', the equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci is considered strange by wizards, as they deliberately begin by deciding what they want and then phrasing the spell, whereas he takes time to understand the structure of the universe first, and in doing so creates more complex and longer-lived effects than those wizards, who care only about the results and not the means (much like politicians I think!).

And the danger of having the ability to change physical reality en masse is dangerous in large numbers. As for the 'caring universe', the fact that reality has multiple organizers, each believing themselves worthwhile, the idea of favoring just one is grossly unfair, in those settings which have deities, many are often species-specific (racism and ethnocentrism on a cosmological level). Magic in these settings is usually a convenient shortcut, and if the ability is inherent (genetic or 'chosen ones') then prejudice results (ex. Muggles in Harry Potter).

Even with elemental-level abilities that depend on consciousness, consciousness itself is the greatest ability of all, to understand and influence reality by proxy or directly. The key to your future is whether you can continuously improve as individuals or as groups without destroying the fabric of reality.

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Robin writes: "Folks, thinking about reality - making theories about it and trying out various scenarios in your mind - doesn't count as fiction, it counts as reality."

Also in the post:

"Fiction can suppress irrelevant detail and emphasize important essences, like a math model."

There seem to be other items on the list that suggest fiction could be seen as a theory about reality. So why is the math model counting as reality and the fiction not?

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The reason fiction cannot compliment reality is fictional characters don't act like real people do. That's why we like them. They are more heroic, more evil, more sinister, and more daring then we are. Your responses to stimuli are partially shaped by the experiences you've had, and if most of those experiences have been fictional, you won't react like someone whose experiences are reality based. I'm not arguing that there should be no fiction, only that the more fiction you read and watch, the more your view of reality is warped. Eventually, your expectations of reality become based on fictional experiences. Think of stereotypes and prejugdeces as perfect examples. The more you are exposed to these fictional representations, the more you believe them to be true, and act accordingly. I would argue that the closer to reality fiction is, the more it impacts your view, and it can be dangerous, if used purposely to change how you view the world.

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Folks, thinking about reality - making theories about it and trying out various scenarios in your mind - doesn't count as fiction, it counts as reality.

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For more on fiction as a complement to reality, read Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation. One argument he makes is that fictional places located in reality like Disney World etc. perform a function in society where one can go to satisfy his experience of "fiction," then return to the "reality" of everyday life. While books, movies and other formats are relatively easy to classify as fiction, fiction and reality experienced directly in life are not as clearly distinguishable as we are conditioned to believe. Social rules can be considered a default designation of roles out of many possible--in this light societal constructs can share qualities of fiction. But because they are internalized, they less than regularly occupy our attention."All the world's a stage."

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I vote for "complements" as I think fiction helps us to uncover reality in at least three important ways.

In one sense fiction helps us understand causality by letting us examine counterfactuals. Murder mysteries come to mind.

In another, fiction helps us to glimpse the shape of the curve as it were. We identify variables, plug in different values and plot the results in hopes of finding some otherwise hidden pattern. Think Star Trek.

Finally, fiction helps us comprehend our selves, our nature; what motivates us and what drives us - whether primordial or ... otherwise; and here I refer mainly to fantasy, in all its forms. The Lord of the Rings being an excellent example.

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Here's my layperson take: if we were to imagine no fiction could exist in our world, what would the results be? A less powerful understanding of the world or a more powerful understanding of the world? We'd have to eliminate all unreality. I'm not sure how we could function. No thought experiments, no probabilities to stand in for certainties, no theories based on probabilities, no trusting your gut or instincts.

It seems like we live in a fiction of sorts, for the most part, whether we want to or not. There seem to be more useful fictions than others, Newtonian physics over theological explanations of how the world works, for example, but both are replaced by a more broadly useful theory. And that could be overturned if we were to find out we were really a simulation on someone's computer living in a world governed by their whims. And it seems we'll never (as far as I can tell) get the certainty of knowing we're not currently in a position like that.

We just have to do the best we can with what we have. Certainty seems like such a small portion of experience sapped of inference--the moment we are experiencing right now minus what we think it is.

Thinking about a person's self-image and personal history--I wonder how much of what seems interesting or important is certainly true. Even probably true. What if you demanded certainty or high probability to be the only thing allowed to be a part of one's self-image or personal history? Could people function or feel happy without a strong sense of self that could, perhaps at best, be a weak approximation of the reality?

It seems to me life is a fiction by and large, constructed from the certain present moment, which we hope to be true, seems to be useful, and could largely be overturned by new knowledge. Perhaps learning to enjoy fiction helps us to enjoy life. "Oh, what I thought was real was the creation of some evil genius? Well, it was quite a good story. Now I have to 'write' a new one."

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Fiction as a complement to reality - an engaging, richly detailed, internally consistent fictional world is an excellent complement to reality.

Immerging oneself in such a fictional world, such as Middle Earth, provides a great place to exercise rationality within a simpler model than the real universe. The same principle reaches video and table-top role playing games, where understanding how things work within that fictional universe is an important part of the fiction.

I would then say that fifth reason is the most important one, and that to be good fiction in the sense of complementary-to-reality, the fantasy must be set in an internally consistant world.

In fiction set in the real world, the more accurately it represents reality the better the fiction. The characters will then be fictional and the situations hypothetical.

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I assume thought experiments must be counted a form of fiction.

Is fiction on the whole a complement to reality? I doubt that it is inherently either a complement or a subsitute. It depends how you use it.

(PS, Miguel - your English is fine. Much easier to understand than the stilted language quoted from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.)

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Existence is rife with fictions. These are not limited to economics, governments, history, ethics, institutions of all stripes, and all other Spectacles. Exposure to more fictions and more notions in general just makes us better are recognizing them and their nuances. It is only the human being that has a notion of "meaning," hence it does not come from experience, the cosmos, or some elaborate epistemology. Giving meaning to the universe is our only real unique talent or gift, so we might as well make an effort to be talented at it.

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One of the rare instances where I agree with Caledonian. I always thought of murder mysteries as intellectually unfair. The murders are often solved through luck combined with prior knowledge possessed by the detective but not revealed until the end. And this tradition goes way back to Sherlock Holmes and Augustine Dupin...

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Maybe fiction could give us practice in particular kinds of cognition and in evaluating particular kinds of fact patterns? For example, a murder mystery might train us to engage in deduction from small evidence spread over lots of places.

You don't read many murder mysteries, do you? That is precisely what they do not do. They are explicitly crafted so that people will NOT figure out the real explanation, through a combination of literary misdirection and leaving out information that the detectives possess.

Your suggestion is akin to saying that prestidigitation is performed to teach people how to pay attention properly. That is not what it does, and not what it is intended to do - it fulfills a totally different function.

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