Harry Potter and the Extension of Reality
This will be a strange post.
I just finished the Harry Potter series, and I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’m quite sure it’s the best series I’ve ever read in many ways. Not in all ways, but in many. Perhaps in most that matter.
Anyway, I’ll come back to that later; that’s not the important part. While reading it slowly over the last few months I’ve come to realize something interesting, and possibly profound: a certain type of non-typical worldview can blend fantasy with reality.
Hold on…this post isn’t that weird…
I’m not saying that fantasy can enter reality, or become reality, but rather that if you have a particular type of secular, materialist–yet empathic–perspective on life, fantasy actually be considered another type of reality.
In short, if our *real* experiences are merely chemical imprints in our minds that we can recall with varying (and diminishing) degrees of accuracy, then what distinguishes those experiences from those we get from sources other than our direct interactions?
As an example, I had many friends throughout my childhood that were only casual friends–acquaintances really–and perhaps we had some good times skateboarding or whatever. But when I think back to these people I can barely remember them. All the times we went skating across town, or to 7-11 to get a Big Gulp, or whatever…they’re all mixed up and faded.
In fact, I’m probably mixing together several acquaintances when I think of those memories, and furthermore mixing the various times we went on our various adventures?
How real is that?
How real is something when you can’t remember the distinct times you went to do something, and who exactly was with you, and what all they said, etc.? Not very.
Now, compare that to a memory of good books you’ve read. Maybe they’ve been Tom Clancy-type books with elaborate spy plots. Or, maybe they’re fantasy books like Harry Potter.
Explain to me, or to yourself, what the difference is between memories of a friend you haven’t interacted with in a long time and wasn’t really that close, and the memories of a character that you’ve followed for around 4,000 pages recently.
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The answer is startling to me. The answer is nothing.
I can feel these HP characters, just as I have felt other characters in other books that were vivid enough to become tangible in my mind. Just like people I can scarcely remember from my past.
In fact, I think if an alien were to probe my brain and peruse my memories they may become very confused. Who was this young kid who went to battle school and fought insect people? A friend of his? Who are these people who can violate physical laws by studying at Hogwarts? How did he see these people?
I wonder if they wouldn’t be challenged to find the line between what I’d experienced through imagination and story, vs. what I’d “actually” experienced.
And that’s the key I think. Experience is experience. To some degree, depending on resolution, if you can experience the event in any sense, then it happened to you. You can live at Hogwartz, you can fight at battle school, you can be a super hero.
I think the difference between reality and fantasy is simply a matter of stimuli resolution. In other words, reading about how good a steak tastes has much less fidelity than does tasting it yourself, but that’s merely a limitation of the imagination and/or external input.
I’ve no doubt that the future offers a complete merging between fantasy and reality, as the barrier between them is more fragile than we realize.
But I digress. The real point of this post is to say that if you do have this world view, and you do accept that friends you read about in books are much more like “real” friends than realized, then the world opens itself to you.
What this means is that you can actually experience more of life by reading. It means that you can look back upon the things you’ve experienced while reading as things you’ve done, not just things you’ve looked in on in an artificial way.
This perspective magnifies with great force the gift of sharing reading with others (assuming they have a similar worldview). It means by showing them other worlds and other perspectives, you’re actually enhancing their lives. It puts reading in a new role, where, rather than being a mechanism for escaping reality, it becomes a method of augmenting reality. ::