Responses to fiction

Richard Norman rsnorman at mediaone.net
Sat Jun 16 13:36:39 EST 2001

"Robert Bethune" <bobbethune at yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:3b2b9763.156543359 at lakehuron...
> I would like to identify publications bearing on what we know, or what
> research is ongoing, on human response to fiction.
> When I say "fiction," I don't mean just the experience of reading
> fictional material. I'm also thinking of response to theater, TV,
> film, video, storytelling, mime, dance, opera and so forth--all the
> ways and means of storytelling in ordinary use.
> What interests me is the fact that people can and do experience deep,
> rich, sustained and authentic emotional response to fiction. In the
> course of reading a story, watching a play, or viewing a film, people
> often experience emotional responses comparable in intensity, though
> different in nature, to those experienced in connection with real
> events.
> I'm also interested in the fact that people who create
> fictions--actors, writers, dancers, singers, filmmakers and so
> on--also have these kinds of highly authentic emotional responses to
> fictional materials. For example, in the course of rehearsal and
> performance, actors can and often do enter and sustain very powerful
> and authentic emotional states and states of interpersonal
> relationship vastly different than their ordinary emotional states and
> relationships and very much influenced by the purely fictional nature
> of the story portrayed in the material being rehearsed or performed.
> Recent items I've happened across, such as the article in the current
> Scientific American on hypnosis, seem to show that recent research is
> able to differentiate between neurological events occuring in response
> to imagination, hallucination, and reality. There seem to be
> fascinating phenomena going on relative to how the brain authenticates
> experience, differential pathways by which experience--fictional or
> real--reaches those areas of the brain which control emotional
> response.
> If anyone can suggest psychology or neurology texts that would help me
> learn more about this area, I'd very much appreciate it. I have a
> pretty good background in psychology and neurology for a layman, but
> I'm not a psychologist or neurologist. I am, in fact, a working
> theater professional and teacher of acting.
> I'll be checking back here on the newsgroup, and I'm also reachable at
> rbethune at mediaone dot net.
> Many thanks for your time.

This is far from the neurological, but an excellent place to start
investigating the notion of "fiction" is the semiotician Umberto Eco's
book "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods,"  especially the final
walk: "Fictional Protocols".  The notion of "what is reality" -- what
is "fiction" -- what is literary "realism" are very important
philosophical issues.

I believe that an essential aspect of the notion of
"consciousness" is the human species' ability to create
a "fictional" world --  that is, a world that does not arise from
direct sensory and motor experience, but from the abstract
simulation of the same cognitive responses that ordinarily
results from experience but instead are produced through the use
of language.  Our "consciousness" then depends on recognizing
ourselves as actors in this inner representation of either the
"real" or the "fictional" world.  Clearly this ability has evolutionary
value -- the ability to consider alternative courses of action, play
out their consequences in our minds, and then choose an
actual course of behavior based on our determination of a "best"
strategy.  But the ability to create an internal world of fiction has
also tremendously enriched our world -- i.e. literature.  Where it
gets interesting is when we fail to distinguish between the
"fictional" and the "real" inner worlds.

But I am sorry to say I don't have a clue as to the proper
neurological or physiological literature.   Whoever does respond,
though, please answer to this news group.  I would love to find
out more!

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