Mark Twain once said that the truth is stranger than fiction, and why should it not be? Fiction has the constraints of being believable, truth does not. While this is usually the case, for years now, one has fed off the other. Reality moulds fiction while fiction is the fertile ground of imagination for what can become real. Most inventions and developments can find their roots in stories that the inventor was inspired by and any story, however magical, always has a grain of truth from which it has grown. We live in a strange world, where words are weapons and the line between fact and fiction sometimes seems to be smudged beyond repair. Like a snake eating its own tale, this seems to be a self-sustained cycle.
Fiction from Fact
It is easy to create fiction. You are taking the audience on a journey with you – to a place, a sound, a feeling or a memory. Artists of every media use fact as the starting point for their mind’s eye to re-imagine the world. Someone looked up at the sky and saw a vast universe and science fiction was born. Not able to reach the depths of the sea or far lands fast enough, stories about fantastical lands with exotic people and creatures arrived. Science has never advanced enough to explain everything, and there’s a lot that scares us, but the human brain demands an explanation. Supernatural entities arrive with one. To save us from these monsters that we very much created, we bring the superheroes. The better, more powerful, more intelligent and kinder humans.
Take any bestselling novel today; dystopian futures, cyber wars, data leaks, prosecution because of love, gender, sexuality, identity, all these are especially gripping because we as a reader can see this happening. We can map the steps in our head from today to the future where these things would be a possibility. At that time, it might just seem like the logical next step. So does this novel then become a cautionary tale or a prophetic one? Does writing it down for everyone to read, hear, discuss and think about make it a self-fulfilling prophecy then?
The movie Tomorrowland comes to mind. This George Clooney-starrer toyed with a similar concept. The fact that the human kind itself believed that it was doomed would bring about their fall.
Fact from Fiction
Thinking about the other side of the spectrum for instance, what about all the things in the world that did not exist before the idea sparked in some creative fools mind after enjoying a piece of fiction. Not just machines or things, even people themselves. Human beings model themselves according to their heroes and want to uphold their ideals. Sometimes these heroes are from real life and sometimes they are imaginary but both influence a person equally. All the little boys who heard pirate stories wanted to be brave adventurers and all the little girls who heard princess stories wanted to find their princes. Had the stories been reversed and the kids had found different heroes, they would have different heroes, different ideals.
This is a very active and thriving example unfolding right under our noses. The female sex has finally found a voice that is slowly but surely being heard. All the credit for this cannot be given to just words but these words have shown these women a world they could have, let the imagine the possibilities, see the truth in the fiction that was written. Most found courage in these very words and are making them come true. Turning what was actually fiction, into an inspiration and now finally the truth.
The Foolish Human Brain
A romantic in this situation would be content with all this but this is not it. Everyday all around us fact melds into fiction. A new reality has begun to take shape. We have heard the term ‘fake news’ thrown about on every new channel and in every speech so much so that it was the word of the year for the year 2017. We are in a position to have all information at our fingertips, all we need to do is ask. What we do not know is who exactly is verifying this information. From politicians to journalists, everybody is under the scanner to provide the latest update and to make better improvements. Making leaps in truth are bound to happen in such cases. The trouble is when we are not able to differentiate between the leaps and the truths. More so when the general public starts believing the leap and build on it making it the truth in turn.
Whose fault would this be? The one who makes the leap breaking an ethical vow? Or the one who believes the fiction even though they know that the news has not been verified? Or does the fault lie in this situation that we are all in that no news would surprise us anymore. Mark Twain’s age old adage maybe threatened by the fact given the world we live in, it seems that neither the truth nor the lie has to be believable.
The bottom line is that the brain seeks is patterns. That is its tendency. We always want to connect the fact to the fiction and vice versa no matter how fantastical either might be. Everything that we create or imagine, we do so in our own image, always borrowing. What our brain used as an inspiration, another might see as an opportunity for creation. Who is more powerful though – the creator or the seeker, fact or fiction? Has fiction evolved from being just an escape from reality to becoming the saviour from the said reality or is it actually the root of what is requiring the escape?
Tripti Chanda is a writing analyst at Qrius.
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