Fiction is a mirror of the collective soul, and so the narratives we choose to tell and to read present an agreed version of reality we decide to share. Our shared version of reality becomes actuality, and we find it uncomfortable and inconvenient when other versions intrude. Sometimes those versions, underpinned by science, become submerged in the groundswell of opinion holding to our selected consensus.
In this week’s Prompt for the Promptless, Rarasaur suggests writing about counterintuition.
Counterintutition is a seemingly simple concept– it represents a truth that is contrary to common sense or the expectations of intuition.
Some examples of counterintuitive situations: You burn calories when you’re sleeping, flailing around is exactly the wrong thing to do when drowning, and beautifully speckled dart frogs can be poisonous to the touch.
On the same day, I read a guest post by Elizabeth Bear on Charlie Stross’s blog about how we think we know certain things, but it turns out we don’t. It was a prime example of how we have rewritten reality and made it counterintuitive as a result.
You probably think you know what a nuclear explosion sounds like.
You’re probably wrong.
The first footage released of hydrogen bomb tests was silent. A foley was dubbed in, using a standard explosion or cannon sound effect repeated to form the familiar continuous, ominous rumble. (If you think about this, it’s pretty obvious that the footage most of us are used to is dubbed, because audio and visual are simultaneous–and these films are shot from miles away from the blast site.)
Collectively we have made the world of known scientific learning one of mystery and furious, opinionated debate. It irritates my Inner Pedant that space battles on TV are chock-full of explosions. They claim in space no one can hear you scream, and they are right. They just don’t demonstrate it so everyone carries on thinking space and vacuums transmit noise just like air.
Equally it’s a guilty pleasure to watch a space battle where not all the ships are oriented the same way up.
More importantly though, if we make scientific discovery a matter of opinion instead of an accepted best description of reality (until we get a better theory – because that is how science works), then we end up with creationism and climate change deniers and all kinds of crazy.
Fiction is a fantastic escape. It’s a means of exploring other possibilities, of examining the human condition and sharing emotional connections. It is not a text book for how the world works. Demarcation, people!
So while certain truths may be counterintuitive, that may be nothing more than a failure of current understanding, When it is caused by conscious manipulation of known facts about the ‘verse then I call it out as fabrication and mythologizing, and demand quality of imagination.
The universe is amazing enough, and has mystery enough, without us compounding our ignorance on purpose.
<Steps down from soap box and shuffles aside>
It’s a beautiful Reality. Enjoy it as it is, without the face paint.