A friend told me today that this essay, posted in April, “bashes” fiction. I reread my post and decided to say more about the topic, especially since another friend has been debating the value of film and fiction with me.
The latter friend previously said that he wants to spend time on activities that stimulate his neurophysiology (e.g., stuff he finds interesting). As a younger man, he read a lot of fiction and watched hundreds of films. Later, he realized that fiction and film just don’t have much value for him when compared with contemporary nonfiction (especially well-researched, actionable stuff that he can use).
I want to bring all these ideas together in a way that clarifies my stance on fiction while providing guidelines for how to “choose” one’s interests:
1. Does the interest in question “light up” your neurons? (E.g., is it stimulating?)
2. Will the interest in question, if pursued, likely harm you?
3. Will the interest in question, if pursued, likely harm others?
4. What’s the potential for net positive gain (especially, for the world)? (This is subtle. E.g., fiction, art, music, etc., can intangibly improve others’ lives.)
If the answer to the first question is “yes” and to the third question “no”, then you’ve found an interest that you should consider developing. Answering “yes” to the second question is only viable if the answer to the fourth question is “massive”. (E.g., Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi would probably have answered “yes” to the second and “massive” to the fourth.)
You can then prioritize your interests both by how interesting they are to you and by how helpful they are to the world (and to you). Then, cut from the bottom so that you’re left with your “best” interests. Pursue those. As you go through life, new interests will pop up; apply the same guidelines to them.
In light of these guidelines, which I think you’d agree with, reading fiction might be a strong interest for you, but you may find other intense interests that *also* help the world (or that help you in ways more concrete than just neurostimulation), and you might find that when you prioritize all of your interests and cut from the bottom (because, after all, we only have a finite amount of time and energy), you actually don’t have time for fiction. Or that you do. People differ. They have different neurophysiologies and they resonate with different things (e.g., with different works of art).
Personally, even though I don’t read much fiction and I don’t watch many films, I always appreciate good fiction/films when I encounter them. Some of my favorite works of art are novels or films; they’re very intellectually/aesthetically stimulating. I don’t consider such consumption wasteful as long as it’s in moderation.