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How fiction can change reality – Jessica Wise

How fiction can change reality – Jessica Wise

Emily Dickinson said over a century ago that “There is no frigate
like a book to take us lands away …” And it’s true. When we pick up a book,
turn on the TV, or watch a movie, we’re carried away down the currents
of story into a world of imagination. And when we land, on a shore
that is both new and familiar, something strange happens. Stepping onto the shore, we’re changed. We don’t retrace
the footsteps of the authors or characters we followed here. No; instead, we walk a mile
in their shoes. Researchers in psychology, neuroscience,
child development and biology are finally starting to gain
quantifiable scientific evidence, showing what writers and readers
have always known: that stories have a unique ability
to change a person’s point of view. Scholars are discovering evidence
that stories shape culture, and that much of what we believe
about life comes not from fact, but from fiction – that our ideas of class, marriage
and even gender are relatively new, and that many ideologies
which held fast for centuries were revised within the 18th century, and redrafted in the pages
of the early novel. Imagine a world where class,
and not hard work, decides a person’s worth; a world where women
are simply men’s more untamed copy; a world where marriage for love
is a novel notion. Well, that was the world
in which Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela” first appeared. Richardson’s love story
starred a poor, serving-class heroine, who is both more superior and smarter
than her upper-class suitor. The book, challenging
a slew of traditions, caused quite a ruckus. There was more press for “Pamela”
than for Parliament. It spawned intense debate
and several counter-novels. Still, for all those
who couldn’t accept “Pamela,” others were eager
for this new fictional world. This best seller
and all its literary heirs – “Pride and Prejudice,”
“Jane Eyre,” and yes, even “Twilight” – have continuously shared the same tale
and taught similar lessons, which are now conventional
and commonplace. Similarly, novels have helped
shape the minds of thought leaders across history. Some scholars say
that Darwin’s theory of evolution is highly indebted to the plots
he read and loved. His theory privileges intelligence,
swiftness, and adaptability to change – all core characteristics in a hero. Whether you’re reading
“Harry Potter” or “Great Expectations,” you’re reading the kind of plot
that inspired Darwin. Yet, recent studies show that his theory
might not be the whole story. Our sense of being a hero –
one man or one woman or even one species
taking on the challenges of the world – might be wrong. Instead of being hardwired for competition for being the solitary heroes
in our own story, we might instead be members
of a shared quest. More Hobbit than Harry. Sometimes, of course,
the shoes we’ve been walking in can get plain worn out. After all, we haven’t walked just one mile in Jane Austen’s or Mark Twain’s shoes – we’ve walked about
100 trillion miles in them. This isn’t to say that we can’t
read and enjoy the classics; we should travel with Dickens, let Pip teach us
what to expect from ourselves, have a talk with Austen and Elizabeth
about our prides and prejudices. We should float with Twain
down the Mississippi, and have Jim show us
what it means to be good. But on our journey,
we should also keep in mind that the terrain has changed. We’ll start shopping around for boots that were made for walking into a new era. Take, for instance, Katniss Everdeen
and her battle with the Capitol. Can “Hunger Games” lead us into thinking
about capitalism in a new way? Can it teach us a lesson about why the individual should not
put herself before the group? Will “Uglies” reflect the dangers
of pursuing a perfect body and letting the media
define what is beautiful? Will “Seekers” trod a path
beyond global warming? Will the life-and-death struggles
of Toklo, Kallik, Lusa and the other bears chart a course for understanding animals
and our place in their world? Only the future will tell which stories
will engage our imagination, which tales of make-believe
we’ll make tomorrow. But the good news is this: there are new stories
to venture in every day, new tales that promise to influence,
to create and to spark change – stories that you might
even write yourself. So I guess the final question is this: What story will you try on next?

100 comments on “How fiction can change reality – Jessica Wise

  1. I literally almost cried every when you mentioned Seekers they are my favorite books and no one seems to know that they exist!!

  2. 2:45 Harry would be absolutely nothing without his "fam" backing him up, and he knows this. Every victory he achieves is due to love and friendship. It's kind of the central theme of the series.

    3:30 The central theme of the Hunger Games is marketing. I suppose capitalism is a part of that.

  3. Hunger games seems more about feudalism and empire then capitalism… in a capitalist system the miners and other producers would be trading for their goods where as in the books they are more like serfs tied to the work by force rather then workers selling their labour for a fair market price.

  4. I THOUGHT IT SAID FRICTION NOT FICTION, I was expecting Physics the entire video and merely received some sort of literacy lesson. #Disappointing

  5. Circular. Fiction changes reality changes fiction changes reality…whoop whoop whoop. Fiction IS reality IS fiction IS reality. Now, back to the beer.

  6. "Yet recent study shows that Darwin's theory might not be the whole story". Which recent studies? That's a bit ambiguous, right?

  7. My dissertation is all about Why and How people Consume Fiction Literature! It would mean the world to me if you took my 10 minute survey…You also can win £75 worth of bookstore vouchers!

  8. 3:20 Way to miss the point of the entire series, dimwit. The Hunger Games books are anti-communist, not anti-capitalist.
    Additionally, I liked Twilight. The second book, anyway.

  9. I had always thought that I was a sore loser reading fiction because my goal in life is to be a scientist.I love fiction but I had a belief that most of my ideas won't work because they were from fictious book and started reading non fiction.

  10. thing was great until "twilight" came out … I don't like Jane Eyre but she's much better and the novel itself was insulted by letting Twillight stranding next to it .

  11. The issue is when fictional stories (such as the vaccine autism link) become widespread, it can hamper science and create public ignorance. Along with reading a story and learning from it, one also needs to be wary of stories that are fabricated and designed to just profit (as is the case with the vaccine autism lie) or push an agenda of an individual or small group.

  12. Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were powerful — they inspired the revolution that would change the view of Filipinos from being slaves to fighters.

  13. Kind of disappointed that the Hunger Games and Twilight were used as examples in this video. Then again it is the most effective way to lecture the young female adults of today. Which are half of this videos target audience

  14. "You don't believe in the power of fiction? It may not be a physical power, but our wish will surely be received by someone. If fiction has the power to touch people's hearts, then that power can change the world" -K1-B0

  15. Without thought there is no thinker.
    Thought is the thinker himself.
    With our thoughts, we create our reality;
    Reading is like thinking with another person's head!

  16. Hi there!

    I enjoyed the spirit of your video, but I noticed that your summary of Pamela is – honestly- staggeringly inaccurate. I applaud your desire to encourage others to tell stories, but I urge you do read Pamela.

  17. Answer: if you have a bad perception of reality it confuses you. So it doesn’t and this video is a waste of time

  18. how much of reality we can change!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ?????????????????
    – at least all aspects of it, and that is the power of fiction,
    fiction is the promises of all unraveled discoveries of this world, and the unraveled full potential of the human being "us", and the unraveled full potential of technology, chemistry, science and biology and all of the potential of the unknown.
    the problem nowadays with civilization is that people who are productive in "the system" have settled with it and accepted it as their reality which has no reality outside of it, when the truth is that there are numerous potentials and talents that are wasted by being part of that inclosure of "the system" and that reality can never be limited to what we know and what we know can never do justice to the unknown realities and the unanticipated potentials, that is why the most independently productive, intelligent and creative people, are those who choose to be outside "the system" and not be limited by it, and more into their potentials and the potentials of this amazing unpredictable world.
    especially knowing the potential of science chemistry and mechanics or rather "not knowing the potential of it" and what we have yet to unravel so we can only dream of the full capacity of the world in the and how much it can offer us, and strive hard together to unravel those potentials and do change all aspects of our lifes based on it. ????????????????????
    and rest assured that the creator of this unknown world is incomprehensible and infinite and is infinitely offering that which is unpredictable and unknown, so dare to dream God is always more that what you can guess and indeed more offering and compassionate than you could dream and imagine, so dare to dream God is infinite & more, and you are a part of the his unknown world and can always forwish your dreams in this unanticipated world so embrace yourself and all of what you have got and dont know, you can always have whatever that which you want in the infinite, so do go all out and surround yourself with your realities and your inspirations and know that God is more ?????✨.

  19. What bothers me about this video is that fiction is presented only for its good effects. No mention is made of harmful fiction. I doubt TED wants us to be influenced by Birth of a Nation, The Turner Diaries, etc. Or to try to recreate anti-intellectual "Utopias" replete with straw Vulcans.

    Further discussion on fiction's misleading or harmful effects can be found at TvTropes at the following links:

    The Coconut Effect
    Television is Trying to Kill Us
    The CSI Effect

  20. Yep. Romance stories are all… Fckin' the same and I always drop a romance book because it's super cliche. But, one's remarkable that has a fantasy setting and the romance there took a really deep, painful, and meaningful way cuz' the characters suffered many tortures and had hurt someone or a whole community ere they finally realized it, and bang! It's wondrous, those books are very stupendous!

  21. Hunger games clearly describes a Communistic/Socialistic society. It's almost like your reading about a more advanced version of North Korea that embraced gladiators.

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