Sunday, December 01, 2013
Things have slowed down at work and I had a whole week off for Thanksgiving. Since Leila and I got step throat and the two youngest are sick, I am ready to go back to work. However, while I have been off I have had more time to read for fun.
This was originally going to be a review of the books I have read over the last few weeks, some new: Kon Tiki - by Thor Heyerdahl, Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans, Unwind and UnWholly by Neil Shusterman, and the Supernaturalist by Eoin Coiffer, and some old favorites: The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien, Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. I try and read all of the books that Emily and Aleah are reading - I usually like young adult speculative fiction and it helps me keep tabs on what they are reading. Instead, this is more of a meta-review/ramblings about what I think our fiction tells us about us and our God.
In genetics, you can test the genotype of an individual by progeny tests - for Mendelian inherited qualitative traits - segregation ratios, for quantitative traits - frequency and distributions. I think the the same is true in life. If you want to really know about the parents, look to the children. If we are are created in God's image, then one way to understand the nature of God would be to look at ourselves. I think that it is significant that we spend a majority of our lives creating universes - TV, movies, books, stories, music, art. I love science fiction and fantasy and the highest praise is that the author has created a complete universe - think of Tolkien's Middle Earth which is complete with mythology, history, maps, languages, and people. No other creature spends so much of its life steeped in imagination. Even more concrete sciences and professions are built upon a foundation of imagination - engineering, inventing, design, etc. So many of our technical advances started as something imaginary that someone willed into existence. The idea of the lightbulb went off before it could be made in reality. This shows that God is truly a creator. Like my own children pretending to be parents, cats and owners, cooks, pirates, princesses, and teachers, we imitate the creator when we imagine worlds beyond our own.
One of the reasons I think is that fiction helps us to understand the world around us or how we feel. Ursula Le Guin describes this in her forward to The Left Hand of Darkness:
"Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events, which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That's the truth!"
Make-believe is a huge part of my life I am afraid. I feel like I know many fictional characters and events as well as I remember real life. Even my memories are layered with the stories that I have told about them. I think that is why my siblings memories of key events do not always agree with my versions. The stories I have told myself and others overwrite the true events because the story is more powerful than the memory. I can see this with my kids as their memories and the stories they tell converge over time.
The counter-argument would be that imagination gives an evolutionary advantage, which is definitely true. Even in the absence of civilization the ability to imagine is adaptive - it surely helps in hunting, in adapting to and modifying our environment. It helps in human groups - nothing fills the evening and attracts a mate like storytelling and music around the campfire. Role playing helps prepare for future situations. The evolutionary development of imagination would be adaptive with or without the relationship with deity, so it still comes down to whether you believe that we are children of deity or not.
So why does this matter? Since we have inherited this from our God, imagination isn't just escapism, but is the beginnings of creation. It is divine and should continue throughout our life. As we mature, we progress from pure imagination to creation - putting those ideas into reality. As adults though we begin to limit our imaginations to fit what we see as the bounds of our creative power, and often we are wrong. We have fewer limitations than we think. The balance though is that reality is bigger and richer than we imagine it to be. Any fiction that clouds reality is a distraction.
I loved this quote from Pres. Uchtdorf speaking to the Relief Society - I abhor the sappy musical accompaniment but can't find a video link to the whole talk:
So go forth and create!