“The Plausibility of the Impossible”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s essays in Opening Minds continues.

Review: “The Plausibility of the Impossible”, Brian Stableford, 1989.Opening Minds

Stableford examines why particularly implausible ideas still hold sway over our minds when we read fantastic fiction.

In a science fiction context, he specifically mentions time travel, faster-than-light travel, and ESP. However, he is really talking about all fantastic literature.

In particular, he talks about how, despite what science has shown, it is very hard for us not to think in terms of Cartesian duality: that is there is a mass of matter, the brain, and we, our thoughts, emotions, and dreams, exist separately from that matter. That’s what our experience in the world and our inner world tell us despite the empirical evidence against it.

In playing off his discussion in “The Concept of Mind in Science Fiction”, he specifically talks about how this makes stories of extrasensory perception and ghosts carry not only an emotional plausibility for us but an empirical one – at least as defined by our experiences if not work in the lab.

The war between our desires and thoughtful considerations, natural drives and social conventions makes it seem like our consciousness is the borderline between two zones whether you call them good and evil, id and superego, angels and demons.

This plays a particular role in secondary fantasy worlds in which

the literary creator of a Secondary World converts his perceived inner reality into an outer reality.

He concludes by stating:

When impossible things become plausible, it is because interpretations which cannot stand up to rigorous rational criticism continue to hold dominion over the imagination, which they do because we have no resources to draw upon which would allow them to be replaced. …

It is, I believe, because we are implausible entities adrift in that implausible universe that we need fantasies – and I mean the word ‘need’ in a strong sense . . . it is only in the recent past that writers of fantastic fictions have enjoyed significant success in reclaiming their proper role from more ambitious pretenders – theologians and mystics. Fantastic fictions are instruments of negotiation with which we try to accomplish the difficult diplomacy of existence in a scientifically knowable but essentially unimaginable world.

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