Why we love fantasy

When we were kids, bedtime was made the most enjoyable for the wonderful stories that our grandmother told; those were mostly stories from Ramayana and Mahabharatha (but with a heavy folk flavour — as I realised later, when I read Ramanujan), which had a large element of the fantastical in them — a hero who would uproot and use whole trees for cooking fire but would be humbled by an old monkey whose tail he could not even move and so on and so forth.

Over at Freakonomics blog, there is a pointer to a couple of links which address the question, namely, as to what the fantasies are good for and why we love them:

Some good ideas have tumbled out of a lively discussion on the subject at Oxford’s Overcoming Bias blog, where Robin Hanson points out that fantasy helps us understand the world we live in, because it can “suppress irrelevant detail and emphasize important essences, like a math model.”

Eliezer Yudkowsky counters that fantasy is only useful when it helps us appreciate what we do in the “merely real” world.

Of course, this being the Freakonomics blog, the next paragraph is only natural:

So if fantasy is a complement to real life, what kind of returns might we see from our growing investment in online role playing games, fantasy books and films, and live-action role playing?

Take a look!


4 Responses to “Why we love fantasy”

  1. Konrad Says:

    Fantsay also gives us something to do when it’s raining outside 😉

  2. raj Says:

    Alison Gopnik, psychologist, UC Berkeley explains in her article, while responding to The Edge Annual Question 2008 “ What have your changed your mind about?” that fantasying confers an evolutionary advantage.

    “For human beings the really important evolutionary advantage is our ability to create new worlds. Look around the room you’re sitting in. Every object in that room – the right angle table, the book, the paper, the computer screen, the ceramic cup was once imaginary. Not a thing in the room existed in the pleistocene. Every one of them started out as an imaginary fantasy in someone’s mind. And that’s even more true of people – all the things I am, a scientist, a philosopher, an atheist, a feminist, all those kinds of people started out as imaginary ideas too:

  3. Guru Says:

    Dear Raj,

    Thanks for the pointer; I can imagine that fantasying should have conferred some evolutionary advantage since it is seen across all cultures in such a pervasive fashion. But, the question that Freakonomics is asking is slightly different, I guess — they are asking about returns for the investment in fantasy films and books. As Oliver Sacks said elsewhere, one answer of course is that it gives so much of pleasure and what more can one ask for. But are there any other benefits other than that they give us pleasure? Could be; but I don’t know what they are.

  4. How fiction works « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] fiction works After fantasy, it is only fair that we ask the question, namely, how does fiction work? Pradeep Sebastian reviews […]

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