Apparently, one can read all kinds of nonfiction â€” science, history, politics, philosophy, puzzles, technology â€” and some regions of the brain are left wanting. These are stimulated by fiction alone.
Brain science seems to confirm this.
Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that â€śruns on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.â€ť Fiction â€” with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions â€” offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other peopleâ€™s thoughts and feelings.
Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, â€śis a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.â€ť
But fiction draws one into simulations of experience we may want to embrace or avoid. Consider what the following passage from A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One (by George R.R. Martin) stimulates:
Bran kept his pony well in hand, and did not look away.
His father took off the man’s head with a single sure stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine. One of the horses reared and had to be restrained to keep from bolting. Bran could not take his eyes off the blood. The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched.
The head bounced off a thick root and rolled. It came up near Greyjoy’s feet. Theon was a lean, dark youth of nineteen who found everything amusing. He laughed, put his boot on the head,and kicked it away.
“Ass,” Jon muttered, low enough so Greyjoy did not hear. He put a hand on Bran’s shoulder, and Bran looked over at his bastard brother.
“You did well,” Jon told him solemnly. Jon was fourteen, an old hand at justice.
Great popular fiction not only moves brains, it moves movies and television series.
“Game of Thrones” (based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels) completed one series on HBO and began a second on April 1.