The Magic Trick: Fiction is Reality!

Now that I have ripped up the book, I hand it back to you whole. I told you all writing is fiction, now I tell you all fiction is real. A magic trick!

As all of you know, magic tricks are fake. Alas, how we regret learning that the magic trick which put us into ecstasies of delight was false. Our father teaches us the important lesson that the magician was performing tricks to entertain us. We do  not believe our dad until he shows us how the trick was done, and then we realize begrudgingly that the magician was a liar. Yet we hold out the hope that the next magician will have some real power. We watch carefully trying to catch him at his tricks, but we hope, nevertheless, oh how we hope, to find one trick that cannot be figured out. We wait for the day when there will be magic, real magic! We are ready at any moment to believe.

Comes a day when we realize even that hope is false. How we regret to discover every magician we ever see will be a sham. We lose interest in the magic show and turn to history and science. I don’t know if psychologists have studied this important development in our psyches, but it must be one of the major traumas of life, along with the birth trauma (which Elwood P. Dowd said we never recover from), the separation from our mothers (who we replace in part with our imaginary friends) and then — alack alay! — the loss of our imaginations. (I say keep saying “we,” but I can only really write about myself. The truth was a trauma for me. I still suffer from it.)

Once I thought animation looked different only because it was filmed in a different place, a place I would visit someday. Then I learned the terrible distinction between imagination and reality, and it fell like an iron wall and cut me in half. I realize now that I will never fly or go backward in time or get to Middle Earth. I will never meet Bugs Bunny. I will never go to another planet or find a doorway to another dimension.  I am stuck with this body and this life. The flimsy page (in this case a screen) is an impenetrable barrier that separates me forever from my dreams.

Now this fool of a writer, this Ronosaurus, is telling me that even non-fiction is false and black is white and day is night. Not only is he doing it, but the structuralists are telling us that there is nothing absolute in language, nothing that refers directly to the real world, and the post-structuralists are telling us there is nothing but language, that we can only read the world as signs, that everything we see, we see as a symbol: road, tree, stranger, car, accident. We read the world like a running code, as in the Matrix. If we try to point to a table and say that table is real, we can only use a symbol to do so, our pointing finger. Animals do not understand this symbol. If you point at something, a cat will look at your finger rather than the object you are pointing at because they do not know what the gesture means. A dog can be trained to learn what a pointing finger means, but cats and dogs can learn words after all, their own names and the word “dinner.” Like “Fluffy” and “ball,” the pointing finger is language.

When we point to the table are we really pointing to that thing there or are we pointing to the idea of tableness? (Here in this writing, of course, there is no table. There is an end table in front of me, a real end table, as I write this, but do I see it or do I see the concept of “end table.” Does it exist outside of my words for it? And what about calling it real? What does that mean and how do words mean anything? The unreality of reality isn’t a new idea. The Buddhists and the Hindus and the Platonists have been telling us for a long time that reality isn’t real.

Even scientists say that all matter is energy jumping around so quickly that it seems solid, but there is nothing solid about it. Does that mean it isn’t real? Real or not, something is happening. Energy is moving around. Events are taking place.

Fiction, like matter, happens. The events that make up fiction are the thoughts and daydreams of the writer that lead to the writing process. These are real events. Thoughts and daydreams are not something which takes place in some imaginary Platonic realm, they all have physical presence in the form of energy pulses firing through the synapses in our brains. Without these events, there is no thought. However, thought is real, as real as matter. Dreams are real.

You may argue that in the real world, the signals come from something external to ourselves and in a dream the signals are produced and consumed internally, within your own skull. Yet what makes one experience more real than the other? They both happen in terms of energy in motion. Dreams may happen differently, but they do happen, and we can prove it scientifically, we can measure it. As we can record our experience of “reality,” as in the link Krzysztof shared, “Getting Visual Data from a Cat’s Brain in Realtime.” One day we will be able to record our dreams. How then will dreams differ from the experience of reality?

I do believe in reality (listen to me, “believing” in “reality”). Even more importantly I believe in myself. Something is happening and something, somebody, is experiencing it. Des Cartes’s famous statement, “I think therefore I am” has been dismissed lately because people interpret it to mean that our powers of reasoning that are the core of our existence, but they miss the point. Des Cartes was saying if something is wondering if it exists, then the something must exist in order to wonder about itself. Therefore, something exists. I think therefore I am, and if I exist, then why not call that thing that is going on inside and around me “reality,” for want of a better word. I insist, however, that “reality” necessarily includes books, blogs, thoughts, and dreams. These things happen, therefore they exist.

I recognize a difference between “the real world” and “a dream,” but the difference is one of kinds of reality, rather than real or not. What we call “the real world” is a shared experience with a more or less continuous storyline (a highly debatable proposition, I recognize), while dreams are individual experiences which do not have a continuous plot. Whether you accept this argument, in both cases something is happening, energy is moving around. You can argue that fiction is different than your experience of reality, and that will be interesting to examine how it is different, but fiction exists.

Bugs Bunny has a physical presence. Holden Caulfield has changed lives. Middle Earth is a place you can literally “see.” You may not be able to go to there in the meat, but you can go and experience it in nearly the same way you experience events in your every day life.

All of this reasoning has been a magic trick, of course, a play of words, a switching of the coin from one hand to another. Nevertheless, it happened, as I thought about writing it and as I typed and retyped it out. It now exists as code in synapses in my brain and in binary code stored on a real database somewhere in silicon valley. Now (your now, not mine) it exists as letters on your screen, and synapses firing in your brain. Whether or not it is true, it is happening. This piece of fiction is reality. The trick is real and the illusion produced in our brains is real. Magic happens.

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