Empathy + knowledge = Fiction

CoverI have always been a reader of fiction.  I get non-fiction books out of the library with great intentions.  The last one was The filter bubble : what the Internet is hiding from you by Eli Pariser, who asserts that there is a hidden rise in the way that the Internet is personalised, and that this limits the information that we get.  Google can now detect the type of information that we are most likely to click on, rather than giving us the broadest of results.   Fascinating stuff, highly recommended in fact.  I did read bits of it, but I confess I did not devour the whole thing.

Now if this had been a novel things might have been different.  Up and coming  man/woman, struggling with his/her guilt at being involved in an industry that manipulates the public for monetary gain.  Possibly lives in Manhattan/London, struggling with marriage/divorce/lovers,  trying to juggle work/family/elderly mother. Plenty of interesting side characters and work colleagues mixed in with a bit of intrigue and nasty goings on.

At the endCover of this book, I have a good idea of what is happening in this industry. It will of course  have been researched and well written. But as well as factual information, I will have also delved into other people’s lives, experienced emotion, stopped to think about parallels in my own life, and hopefully been thoroughly entertained!

I can now also feel totally vindicated as a fiction reader by this study: Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’.   The author of the study  has this to say.

I think the reason fiction but not non-fiction has the effect of improving empathy is because fiction is primarily about selves interacting with other selves in the social world,” said Oatley. “The subject matter of fiction is constantly about why she did this, or if that’s the case what should he do now, and so on. With fiction we enter into a world in which this way of thinking predominates. We can think about it in terms of the psychological concept of expertise. If I read fiction, this kind of social thinking is what I get better at. If I read genetics or astronomy, I get more expert at genetics or astronomy.

Probably it’s a bit like everything else in life;  a bit of variety is a good thing, but this is something I can now drag out when confronted with the Non-Fiction reading elite who think that fiction is just a bit of fluff.

4 thoughts on “Empathy + knowledge = Fiction

  1. SandySays1 20 September 2011 / 9:08 am

    Some very valid reasoning. Consider that works of fiction often do more to shape society than multiple NF works. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Oliver Twist are great examples of fiction that did more to change society than any other factor.

    • jane 20 September 2011 / 2:06 pm

      Very true, I wonder if the fiction format makes uncomfortable ideas more palatable?

  2. Robyn 20 September 2011 / 9:15 am

    Jane I await your first novel with interest – based on your outline I’d read it.

  3. jane 20 September 2011 / 9:19 am

    I think it’s been done before!!! I very rarely have an original thought….

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