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Old 07-23-2004, 05:05 PM
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Default why fiction scares me

I have lots of facts in my head that aren't correct. How did they get there? How can I ever hope to get all of them out or replaced with correct facts?

Reading fiction generally scares me because it often includes factual information that I can't easily discern if it is accurate or not. I don't have the time, energy or inclination to research every fact presented in a work of fiction to assess if it is correct.

Normally I would just be skeptical and not pass judgement as to the correctness of the facts presented, but therein lies the problem with fiction. The facts are just slipped in without being labelled by my brain as of unknown validity.

Say for example I am reading a book about whatever and one of the characters in the book says something about ancient Rome. I am not particularly well versed in Roman history. The book isn't about ancient Rome at all so I don't analyze the statement made. The statement is in my head now though. It got in without being scrutinized and it didn't set off any obvious BS filtering.

So now 10 years later I am having a conversation with someone and it turns to ancient Rome. Neither of us is particularly well versed in the topic, but we are just having a casual conversation so it doesn't really matter. I share the incorrect fact about ancient Rome with my conversation partner and not knowing any better s/he allows it into her brain.

I have just infected a person with wrong information and I didn't even intend to do it. Had I known the information was incorrect I wouldn't have done it. It's like I am a non symptomatic carrier of an infectious disease and I am spreading it to everyone I come in contact with.

Does anyone else see the problem I am referring to? It just seems to me that no matter how skeptical we might prefer to be, there are mediums of information transfer that are fairly effective at bypassing the skeptical layer and just getting in.

I don't see that there is any solution other than turning off the TV and burning all works of fiction, but that strikes me as a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

What to do?
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Old 07-23-2004, 05:20 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Um, if the incorrect tidbits have no bearing on anything, why worry? Your phobia is one I have never come across....why does everything you think have to be a "fact"? Do you allow room for speculation/imagination?
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Old 07-23-2004, 05:55 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea
Um, if the incorrect tidbits have no bearing on anything, why worry? Your phobia is one I have never come across....why does everything you think have to be a "fact"? Do you allow room for speculation/imagination?
Absolutely. I am entirely comfortable having facts in my head that are labelled as to perceived probability of trueness. I am likewise comfortable with facts that I regard as certainly true or certainly false.

What scares me (OK, scares is too strong of a word, mildly concerns me would be better) are those facts in my head that have been labelled as true without any conscious thought on my part.

As for the incorrect tidbits having no bearing on anything, that's where the scary part comes in. The incorrect fact may or may not ever have any real world consequences. Someone believing some false fact about ancient Rome does seem fairly trivial, but what if the incorrect fact concerns a CPR technique? What if I am in a situation where I see someone requiring help, there is nobody else around to do it, and I act because I *think* I know what to do, but really I end up killing the person. Perhaps had I done nothing the person would have survived.

Ok, that may seem like a far fetched scenario, but that's only because I can't rapidly come up with a better one. The point is that ideas/facts do, at least sometimes, have real consequences.
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Old 07-23-2004, 06:25 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

How do you verify that ANYTHING you read or hear is correct? How can you trust that a non-fiction book is not, in fact, fiction? Down this path lies paranoia and insanity. We all pick up "facts" and pass them along to others as "facts." If it is important and we are wrong someone will likely point out the error. At that point we can believe them or not or investigate further to determine what the actual "truth" might be.

Any potential lifesaving technique (CPR, Open-Heart Surgery, etc.) should probably have been practiced a few times in non-life-threatening situations before using it for real. Any use of "knowledge" that affects the lifes of others should not be predicated on a vague memory of having read something once that may or may not have been factual.

Fiction is a wonderful device to explore the "what-if" scenarios of life without having to endanger anything more than a few trees (or pixels depending on your choice of media.)

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Old 07-23-2004, 07:05 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
I have just infected a person with wrong information and I didn't even intend to do it. Had I known the information was incorrect I wouldn't have done it. It's like I am a non symptomatic carrier of an infectious disease and I am spreading it to everyone I come in contact with.
I think the only thing you can do is continue on until you come across someone who has the cure (correct facts). However, if having come across the cure for being infected with false facts, you don't wish to take your "medicine" (like a good little boy) then you have an even worse disease.

No one, afaik, knows everything correctly about everything. Even the specialists, in a particular field of expertise. don't always have their facts straight. It's a condition of the mind that we all learn to live with without much thought. Not a major stumbling block in being able to function (live life), unless you think about it way too much.

Larry :)
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Old 07-23-2004, 07:17 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Oh, a fascinating puzzle, and one I haven't worried that much about. I've been bitten by it once, too - there's some errors about medieval weaponry in The Once And Future King. I guess... I'll take the tradeoff, truths about the nature of the world for occasional falsehoods about its material history.
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Old 07-23-2004, 09:10 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Well, you should never do CPR unless you have been trained. Doing it incorrectly can cause harm. I took a free class through the Red Cross years ago and have a little card saying I am certified in emergency first aid and CPR...it's a nice thing to know.

Can you think of any other real life consequences of having incorrect "facts" stuck in your brain, and if so ways to counter the incorrect info?
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Old 07-23-2004, 09:25 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea
Can you think of any other real life consequences of having incorrect "facts" stuck in your brain, and if so ways to counter the incorrect info?
If I thought about it long enough I am sure I could come up with at least a few more hypothetical scenarios, but overall I just plain find it unpleasant that some media are so good at getting information into my brain without it being considered in a critical manner.

This isn't something I am obsessed with by a long shot, it's just something I introspect on from time to time.

I put the ramblings in this forum because it is primarily the medium of fiction that has the greatest potential (for me anyway) to get stuff slipped in without being critically examined.

It's more about the power of the medium than actual consequences from it's effects in other words.
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Old 07-23-2004, 09:44 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

It's simple really. All you need is the ability to discern where you learned something, then apply it appropriately. I don't recall every having a problem deciding whether I learned something from fiction or non-fiction.

I mean Tom Clancy has some fact and some fancy speculation in his stories, but they're fiction and I'm not ever going to cite something I learned from his books as fact, even if it were... fact, that is.


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Old 07-23-2004, 09:55 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
I mean Tom Clancy has some fact and some fancy speculation in his stories, but they're fiction and I'm not ever going to cite something I learned from his books as fact, even if it were... fact, that is.
Michael Crichton has a way of making the science in his fiction sound totally plausible to a layman like me. If nothing else, reading his stuff has piqued my interest enough to research some of it. So, to me, even if it isn't "fact" it is still a bug in my ear to go learn something new.

Some movies too. I recently watched Monster and went immediately online after to read about the real woman depicted in the movie....did the same thing with Braveheart and Tombstone off the top of my head. Hmm, come to think of it, movies and books have prompted much of my research and learning.
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Old 07-23-2004, 10:24 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea
Michael Crichton has a way of making the science in his fiction sound totally plausible to a layman like me. If nothing else, reading his stuff has piqued my interest enough to research some of it. So, to me, even if it isn't "fact" it is still a bug in my ear to go learn something new.

Some movies too. I recently watched Monster and went immediately online after to read about the real woman depicted in the movie....did the same thing with Braveheart and Tombstone off the top of my head. Hmm, come to think of it, movies and books have prompted much of my research and learning.
Same here.


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Old 07-23-2004, 10:32 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

I sympathise greatly with dantonac; I've felt this unease as well. The simple solution of "remember the source and classify accordingly" that warrenly suggested isn't available to me; I have trouble remembering my sources. It also may not be a life-or-death issue, but I do regard learning true facts about the world seriously; if you get pieces of reality straight, that will help you extrapolate further about reality, relating what you know to itself and expanding your knowledge from within, tracing fruitful imaginative tracks rather than random ones.

Specifically, I've felt the issue reading Colleen McCullough's excellent Masters of Rome series, as well as Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars).

At the same time, the issue does present itself in general: how do you trust anything you read, especially something that actually presents itself as factual? You still have the same problem of needing to cross-reference the knowledge to double-check it, and continue to hold it always in a mild suspension of disbelief to avoid feeling certain of things that inevitably will sometimes turn out differently than you've learned.
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Old 07-23-2004, 10:47 PM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
I put the ramblings in this forum because it is primarily the medium of fiction that has the greatest potential (for me anyway) to get stuff slipped in without being critically examined.

It's more about the power of the medium than actual consequences from it's effects in other words.
That's an interesting perspective, dantonac. Are there any other media that you feel are particularly adept at making you assume truth without scrutiny? I would probably be more concerned about film or television rather than books, just because the information is delivered so rapidly it's almost impossible to check up on in real time.
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Old 07-23-2004, 11:06 PM
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Originally Posted by livius drusus
That's an interesting perspective, dantonac. Are there any other media that you feel are particularly adept at making you assume truth without scrutiny? I would probably be more concerned about film or television rather than books, just because the information is delivered so rapidly it's almost impossible to check up on in real time.

Well said, Blake, you put my thoughts into words much better than I did.

livius, the media (film, books, even audio) aren't really the issue to me, but rather the medium of fiction. Granted a movie presents facts in a rapid fashion and therefore they cannot be evaluated in real time unless one is constantly hitting the pause button, but when I encounter something that is presented as non fiction I always (usually) allow all the facts into my brain with skepticism. I guess you could say I label non fiction as likely to be true, but requiring confirmation before being accepted as true.

With fiction I am not expecting to be taught anything, rather I only expect to be entertained. As something of an intentionally exaggerated example imagine watching a porn film. Other than perhaps learning a new position to try out, would you expect to learn anything from it? Now imagine that one of the characters in some sappy excuse for dialogue said something about city x being the capital of country y. The fact is wrong. Why bother scrutinizing the statement of fact, that's not why you are watching the film. I doubt that I would even consciously be aware that a fact had just entered my brain. But it did.

Perhaps another way of saying it is that fiction presents facts in an almost subliminal manner. At least to me and Blake (or is that Blake and I?) :D
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Old 07-24-2004, 03:20 AM
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Quote:
Granted a movie presents facts in a rapid fashion and therefore they cannot be evaluated in real time unless one is constantly hitting the pause button
Or one is quicker than the average moviegoer, or one is better versed at experiencing the film-temporal-space than the average moviegoer that they're used to stepping up their thought patterns. You also get used to watching, or reading, or listening, or experiencing something in two minds. One is the Pleasure Principle, which goes along for the ride and doesn't give a damn about facts, which lives in the sensory moment, which is emotive and doesn't retain a very good long-term memory (something it sounds like you need to cultivate a bit better). This goes for things over than movies, books, music, whatever.

The other is The Critic. This one is always standing back, watching with a discerning eye and picking up the problems and factual issues with it. This is the skeptic, the questioner, and the one that has to work hard when experiencing something and has to work quickly to process a far wider spectrum of information many more times and far more quickly than the Pleasure Principle.

Originally I thought these two only existed in regards to film, but now I realise I'm wrong. I can read something these days, and still get carried away emotionally by whatever, but at the same time there will always be a voice in my head that says "Damn, this author needs an editor STAT" or "I really wish he/she would stop with the unecessary caps lock". I'm starting to get it more and more with music as I get a better music ear as well. I can sit and listen to The Spazzy's and ejoy the completely brainless stuff they put out, but also I know the influences and tongue-in-cheek genre patterns they're conforming to.

Let me put it this way. You can still enjoy something. You can read a book which is complete wrong in all its facts and still enjoy it. Why do you think shite like Crichton, Mills & Boon, T.F.P.H.F.C.B.S.L.* sells so well? Because it appeals to the Pleasure Principle better than it does The Critic. The problem is when people start allowing one half to reign over the other, or to make statements it isn't qualified to make. For example, if The Critic says "You didn't really enjoy that because it feels wrong" you've got problems. At the same time, if the Pleasure Principle says "I don't think that's right" you've also got problems.

Most people have an overdeveloped Pleasure Principle. It's the reason shite like Titanic sells so well. Some people also have an overdeveloped Critic at the same time. A good movie, book, piece of music, website or videogame knows how to appeal to both of them, to live up to the asthetic sensory pleasures of its medium and at the same time make sure it does this in the way that doesn't claim to be something its not, that discerns fact from fiction and that doesn't overstep its boundaries. When it does, it tends to be not as good as it could be. Nothing made King Arthur worse (yes, even worse than the bad acting) than its claim to some sort of historical accuracy, then complete and utter raping of any real historical facts it tried to present (stirrups, anyone?).

Just work on seperating the two. One for lightly absorbing the enjoyment and pretty pictures/words and wrong facts, and the other for filtering this and pointing out all the problems like a good skeptic should. :) The more you're exposed to pop culture (instead of scientific culture, where everything attempts to present itself as Facts for The Critic) the better you get at doing this. Having a healthy "Bullshitometer" tends to help a lot as well.

Quote:
Other than perhaps learning a new position to try out, would you expect to learn anything from it?
How well some women fake it? Doesn't mean if it's well faked, you're not going to want to have a quiet word with yourself afterwards. The Pleasure Principle still has a hand in that... :D

*Those Fucking Pseudo-Historical Female Character Bullshit Lits: Eg- "The Book of Ruth", "The Red Tent", "Magdelene", "Walls of Camelot" etc etc etc. Seem to be a big trend currently, along with the "Large Asian Female Face Book Cover ala Memoirs of a Geisha" which is just as bad.
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Old 07-24-2004, 03:34 AM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Thank you, Adora for a very thoughtful, intelligent and well written post. The only part I have a question about is what you meant by this:

Quote:
One is the Pleasure Principle, which goes along for the ride and doesn't give a damn about facts, which lives in the sensory moment, which is emotive and doesn't retain a very good long-term memory (something it sounds like you need to cultivate a bit better).
Are you saying you think I need to cultivate a greater long term memory for such things (like where I learned a fact from) or are you saying I need to develop my ability to just relax and be entertained?

See, the thing is I don't think I have problems enjoying entertainment in a mindless manner, the problem is that it is when I am enjoying entertainment in a mindless manner that I am most susceptible to having facts uncritically take up residence in my head.

I rarely go to movies when they are in the theater and I feel fortunate that this is the case because often films depicting some historical event are so far removed from the actual history that I can read the reviews and know that I shouldn't accept any historical depictions as accurate.

On a seperate, but related matter that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Why do movie producers feel the need to exercise their creative license to such a degree that true history is falsified in the name of advancing a point of view or better encapsulating some more modern political or philosophical statement? Or why is it that a book has to be "adapted" to the point where the story itself is almost unrecognizable to those who have read the book?


Grrr...
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Old 07-24-2004, 03:41 AM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Thanks, dantonac!

Adora, that was hilarious and very true-feeling. ;) I recall a real-life instance of this, when my Mom and I went to watch A River Runs Through It together. She watched on the Pleasure Principle, I as the critic. When we left, I asked her how she liked it and, sniffling, she said she'd enjoyed it a great deal, that it was very touching and greatly appealed to her. When she asked me how I'd liked it, I said not very much; at the end of a few minutes of critical commentary, her eyes were utterly dry! I suppose I awakened the Critic she didn't consciously apply during the movie, and I never started liking it enough to watch on the Pleasure Principle. :)
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Old 07-24-2004, 03:45 AM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

I'm too brain dead to contribute anything brilliant to this thread right now, but rest assured I can relate. Try being raised by a biblical literalist and then dropping out of school in 9th grade. You'll probably occasionally see me say things like, "Now, was Apollo real?" Hell, just trying to think of another example just now I came up with the Marquis De Sade, and I have no idea. I know Geoffrey Rush did a great portrayal, but was that a true story?
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Old 07-24-2004, 03:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by viscousmemories
I'm too brain dead to contribute anything brilliant to this thread right now, but rest assured I can relate. Try being raised by a biblical literalist and then dropping out of school in 9th grade. You'll probably occasionally see me say things like, "Now, was Apollo real?" Hell, just trying to think of another example just now I came up with the Marquis De Sade, and I have no idea. I know Geoffrey Rush did a great portrayal, but was that a true story?
Well I was raised by a biblical literalist and wanted to drop out by the 9th grade, does that count? :D

I know about the Apollo mission (saw the movie...hehehe) and I certainly know about Marquis De Sade, but only the perverse aspects, not the reality and I have no idea who Geoffrey Rush is so you have an edge up on me.

Do you want to compete with me for the title of who is dumber? I will own you. :slap:
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Old 07-24-2004, 11:16 AM
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Default Re: why fiction scares me

Quote:
Originally Posted by dantonac
See, the thing is I don't think I have problems enjoying entertainment in a mindless manner, the problem is that it is when I am enjoying entertainment in a mindless manner that I am most susceptible to having facts uncritically take up residence in my head.
Probably means your Critic needs a bit of work, so it can step up and do some filtering while you are enjoying your media. Well, that would be my suggestion, at least. Which obviously isn't divine-word or some such thing. Either that or avoid historically-based movies altogether :D

Quote:
On a seperate, but related matter that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Why do movie producers feel the need to exercise their creative license to such a degree that true history is falsified in the name of advancing a point of view or better encapsulating some more modern political or philosophical statement?
Because it is human nature to do so. Myths, Legends, Religious Scripture, Terrorist Reports, Conservative Thinktank papers. Nuff said.

Quote:
Or why is it that a book has to be "adapted" to the point where the story itself is almost unrecognizable to those who have read the book?
Because a good book does not always make a good movie. In fact, in many cases, the movie that has had the most influence from its original writer, or sticks too closely to its literary root can be the worst kind: Eg The Queen of the Damned (Anne Rice and her son Chris worked closely with this one, apprently), that Stephen King one he directed himself that everyone now agrees is the absolute worst Stephen King adaptation ever (can't remember its name), the first two Harry Potter movies (b-o-r-i-n-g. Warner played it too safe because they were scared of pissing off JKR and her Horde of Lawyers (TM)) etc etc.

A book can do things a movie can't, and a movie can do things a book can't.

And if you mean things like I,Robot, I already explained the reason behind that in the thread about it. :p
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