This is somewhat of an more esoteric topic. In my mind, this isn’t as broadly applicable as many other things I’ve put into writing. But it’s had a pretty large influence on my mind, enough that empirical patterns start to emerge and I can almost viscerally feel the influence; this post might catalyze you into realizing the same can happen to you.
Ever since I learned to read—my dad gave me the book that got me hooked, The Long Patrol by Brian Jacques—I read voraciously. A little too much so. I spent a lot of time reading, and not a lot of time getting out in the world. As a consequence, my picture, my mental model of what reality was like was skewed.
I realize only now that I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the contrast between how I thought people acted and how the world worked (from what I learned by reading a lot of fiction), and how people really acted, how the world really was, and why.
So lately, ever since realizing this, I’ve cut back on how much fiction I read, and especially fanfiction. An obsession with a book series or other turns into fanfiction, and I spent a lot of time reading that as well.
The thing is, narratives are written by people who have their own mental models of the world, and their works will kind of pass it on to you.
Maybe many people are generally very firm in their world-view and don’t need to worry about this. Me, I’m well aware that my worldview and perception are somewhat easily influenced by what I read, whether fiction or not. So I try to stay away from too much of it.
I’m staying away, and also trying to get out more and build myself my own, personal mental model(s) of things. Rather than secondhand experience filtered through another person’s lens, muddled by textual translation, and even more muddled by a need to fit plot and imaginary people, I’m trying to get more firsthand experience.
“Remembered fictions rush in and do your thinking for you; they substitute for seeing—the deadliest convenience of all.”
—Eliezer Yudkowsky, from this post on LessWrong.
This is a relative of the availability bias: if something is memorable (even if, and especially if, it’s very rare), it seems more common and more likely than it actually is.
Rather than building up your mental pictures of something from the ground up, your brain will cherry-pick things it associates with the subject and use them to build the picture, even if the pieces aren’t necessarily reality-accurate.
So for people like me, their brains will cherry-pick a lot of information (as well as have a lot, from reading a lot), and build wrong mental pictures. We just need to be more careful about the type and content of the information we consume.
I’ve recently finished up a second collection of short stories, titled Unbalanced Memories. Head over to the writing page to download it for free, in .mobi, .epub, and .pdf formats. The mobi and epub formats look much, much better than the pdf, get those if possible.