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4/04/2011

A Matter of Fact and Fiction

Biographical Stuff, b-o-r-i-n-g

Everyone agrees that there are facts and there is fiction. The literary circles put emphasis on pointing out the difference. Writing about something that actually happened is classified as an opus of historical or biographical character, or non-fiction. Writing about something made-up is called fiction.

How can you, the avid reader, tell the difference, when the cover of a book alone doesn't give you any clue if you have one or the other in front of you?

There is a strong consensus, that non-fiction appears to be less inspired than fiction. Not only due to its content but also by narrative standards. There is no natural climax (you know what I mean...) in facts. They are informal fragments. The media coverage of news reports lives and breathes for visuals to elevate the emotional response of the audience. Sorry, radio.

Visual Cortex Overload

The visual narration of events can sometimes be a brutal annex to an otherwise dry report. Especially when you're watching the news and the magnitude and quality of visual detail forces you to blend out the auditory information. Think about 9/11. Those are very powerful pictures. They probably will be carved into our minds forever. It's medium resolution. It's zoomed in.

In principle, a perfect blue sky, a plane and a skyscraper are nice motifs for anyone with a camera at hand. But in this case, the composition of these elements create a diabolical, seemingly fauvist context.

Are these pictures the truth? Do they tell the story of what happened that day? No, because they already have a certain angle in the way they are presented, in the way they are edited. There is a visual narration in the perspective shown to us. These pictures tell a story, the mind establishes a dramatic curve of its own, leading to an escalation. The impact. What you see is a plane crashing into a building, smoke and fire.

What you don't see: people in sheer panic, terrorists praying for their absolution, afterwards destruction, the final thoughts of human beings, burning flesh, death. But then again, that's just the way I imagine it. Not every variable of this event can be uncovered.

Our minds fill in the ones that are significant for the realm of causality, thereby narrating it in the process, blending fact and expectation to one big composite of individual truth.

A Sense Of Truth

I remember seeing things on TV that weren't shown in the news reports. How is that possible?

It's how the mind operates. In linguistics, the phenomenon of filling in the blank spots is called apperceptive enlargement. I think it works in information processing as well. Our minds narrate constantly to make sense of what they perceive. There are certain laws of pattern matching involved, but in their strive for structural integrity our minds seem to be biased narrators, incapable of telling the difference between the facts and the fillings.

So in the end, truth, or whatever you may call it, becomes an irrelevant variable. The solution to the equation needs to pass our standards of completeness. Fiction is what we imagine. Non-fiction is what we imagine to be true. The truth is something that makes some kind of sense according to the coordinate system of a primate brain. If you don't believe me, go ahead and ask a bird. He'll disagree.