How Fiction Can Change Reality

In another great short clip, TED-Ed provides a summary of how fiction, shapes perception.

The video explores how fiction can spark debate, challenge norms and shape cultural evolution.

 

At Bear Skin, we concur !

For more videos such as these, you can go to www.ed.ted.com

The True Man Show

In 1998, Truman Burbank tried to break out of his own life.

He had been born and raised inside a highly elaborate TV show. Truman’s life had been scripted. His love life, his family, his career, it had all been controlled for him.

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The few things he truly wanted – that girl in high school, that trip across the sea – were all taken from him for the sake of TV show ratings.

FILE - This undated file image originally provided by Paramount Pictures shows Jim Carrey starring as Truman Burbank in the 1998 movie "The Truman Show," in which Carrey's character discovers every moment of his life has been broadcast.  (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Melinda Sue Gordon, file) ** NO SALES **

When he gains inklings of the artifice [a studio lamp falls from the ‘sky’ – among other things] he seeks to escape the story. 

As he punctures through the horizons of his own known existence, the audience of his show, are on the edge of their seats. The daring quest of this man to break free of the contraints of his world – sends ratings through the roof.

He is now becoming a ‘true man’. 

truman show

In a parallel universe, Thomas Anderson, a lonely computer programmer known as “Neo” has inklings all was not well with the world. 

Various clues indicate an alternative reality, and so Neo follows mysterious characters  “down the rabbit” hole. He wakes to find that his previous reality, was in fact an elaborate computer program labelled the Matrix, in which all humans are bound as comatose units of bio-electricity. 

In the Matrix, humans are wired to believe their lives are free but in fact they are litte more than battery cells fueling super-intelligent machines. Neo joins the army of rebels in their quest to “unplug” enslaved humans from the Matrix and to shut down the Matrix. 

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What these stories have in common is the question of ‘true freedom’ and thus the question ‘true humanity’.

They join the poems, songs and stories from ancient times that thread together inklings that all is not well with this life – and in fact a greater reality lies beyond. 

 Existential-mirror

But is it true? Are we characters in a play? Is there really a great reality lie outside this dusty cockpit stage, or TV sound studio, or augmented reality?

More importantly is there a  ‘someone’ observing us, or scripting, our story? 

theatrure

Dare we believe there is an ultimate-narrative, and like Neo waking from a dream, that we can better understand our life there? 

Does this greater truth yield greater freedom? 

 neo

Or when we wake from our dream, to “escape our narrative” will we only we find ourselves in ever higher layers of dreams?

inception 3

Moreover, if there is ultimate reality, how would we even know it if we found it?

Religions and faiths can be known as ‘meta-narratives’ or stories that simply explain the nature of reality, the nature of humanity and the nature of ‘true freedom’.  


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The Christian narrative makes daring claims on ulimate reality and so,  to the nature of ultimate freedom:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light to all mankind.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  ~ John 1:1-4, 14.

What is truth?

In the west, we condone a liberal tolerance of all points of view – asserting there is no such thing as “ultimate truth.” This itself is a truth claim but is a valid truth claim because it supports freedom of thought. So we believe in individual freedom.

We don’t believe in any over arching system of ethics or system of truth,  until another culture contravenes our ideas of what is right and wrong. Case in point, what greater evil than the censorship of freedom of speech? right ?

In western nations,  we believe in the power of forgiveness but not in oppressive views or regulations about sexuality. Other cultures believe in conservative sexual values, but not necessarily in our liberal notions of forgiveness. Not an honour-shame society for example.

What is right and what is wrong ? Our bias tells us our ways are right and others are wrong. Other’s truth claims lead to violence and hate. Our truth claims are valid because they endorse freedom and life.

In western nations, we hold dearly to notions of liberal individualism, yet imposing such notions on developing communities, essentially divorcing the individual as an entity from their community, wreaks havoc both for the individual and for the community in question. So well meaning help, from the vantage point of what we value highly can  actually be a violence to a community.

This begs the question of whether there is an ultimate narrative to aspire to understanding – an ultimate hero-journey, an ultimate discovery of “what is” that will guide our way? Or do we simply impose order and narrative onto life? This quote caught my eye recently in the Huffington Post.

In 2009, Julianne Moore’s mother, Anne Smith, died suddenly of septic shock. She was 68, and Moore was devastated. After that, she stopped believing in God. “I learned when my mother died five years ago that there is no ‘there’ there,” Moore, 54, told the Hollywood Reporter.

“Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.”

Do we impose a narrative on life – or is there a narrative there to discover ? Ultimately, what is truth?

Interestingly, Pilate asked the same question of Christ. John 18 recounts:

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”

In John’s account, Jesus makes the startling claim to not “speak the truth” but the “be the truth” that all truth-tellers speak of.

In our understanding, the teachings of Christ are good and moral. He taught to forgive, to show mercy, to love our enemies. He gave up his life for these values. He was an iconoclast, a prophet not unlike Ghandi or Siddharta.

His audactious claims tell us a few things:

  1. He did not ever wish to be a good teacher pointing to the truth. He cannot be equated among good teachers for this claim.
  2. In the words of C S Lewis, “He is either a lunatic, a liar or …………….”

So, what do we do with his claim to BE the truth? If he claimed to embody the truth, this truth must be something like freedom or life, the only things that are of ultimate value and not relative worth.

Science makes truth claims, but science is a provable system of empirical tests. Science claims don’t seek to control us, but rather support our understanding of the reality we live in. Moreover, the claims of science are ultimately disprovable, and the next test or proof can totally shift our understanding of reality to a new and deeper truth claim.

C S Lewis explained his belief in God:

I believe Christianity just as I believe the sun rises, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

So Christ claimed to be the light by which we would see the world and reality.

In narrative terms, Christ claimed to be the ultimate narrative to aspire to, the ultimate meaning in the universe. He stated that we do not simply “impose order and narrative” onto everything, but his IS the grand narrative.