A willing suspension of disbelief: a (fictitious) paradox-


By Drs. N.

This first article is about experiencing fiction and whether or not to accept it. Experiencing fiction is a paradox because you actually have to use two opposite visions to enjoy it. On the one hand, you have to take it for granted that it's not real, because otherwise, for example, you would call the police when a TV series is killed or sad about the death of a (non-existent) character.

First of all, I would like to comment briefly on the history and definition of the term “willing suspension of disbelief”, because this can shed light on the emergence of different opinions about fiction. Next, I briefly discuss two writers, each with a different view of the issue and their arguments for it..
Finally, I will briefly summarize the discussed and draw a conclusion.

The merit of this article is that it dwell on something that we normally do not think so much about. The everyday suddenly becomes special when it is studied, because why do we really like to watch series, when we know that what we see doesn't really happen? Because this is a justified question and an interesting phenomenon, in this short article, based on two different visions, attempts to clarify this issue..

History & Definition
Because in the 18th century (the enlightenment) people began to think more rational and no longer believed in the supernatural, the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge wanted to revive the use of fantastic elements in his poems in order to allow the modern audience to enjoy it savour. That's why in 1817, in a book on making and reading poems, he invented the term “willing suspension of disbelief”. By this he wanted to indicate that if a writer succeeds in arousing the interest of a reader and can suggest the appearance of reality, he should ignore the rational thought that the story is just fabricated..

Of course, the principle is still used today in modern fiction such as fantasy and action films, but also in circus acts and magic tricks. After all, the public is not expected to really think that a woman is cut in half, because in this case people could panic. When people see the trick, they no longer enjoy fiction. So there must be a certain balance in faith and disbelief in order to enjoy fiction.
On the explanation of this issue, philosopher Kendall Walton and art historian Jeroen Stumpel disagreed.

Vision Walton
Kendall Walton talks in his article “fearing fictions” about the example of someone watching a horror movie and seems to be afraid of what he sees. He hereby states that you can only be afraid of something if you believe that that is actually true.. Since the person in the example simply continues to look in his chair and does not run away or call the police, it seems strongly that he does not believe in the authenticity of the horror. However, he does show a number of characteristic physiological responses of real anxiety such as increased heart rate and muscle tone.

The solution to this apparent paradox in which Charles humanity and horror film can represent the world of fiction, Walton solves with the following argumentation. Obviously, fictional truths are true only in fiction. The man-made fictional truths can be suggested as real in two ways, namely by imaging (so simply assuming) that something is true, (for example, by assuming that you can fly on a carpet) or by drawing up rules about when something is in fiction is true (for example: if a blob of mud is in a casket it's a pie in the oven). A so-called “make believe” reality has emerged and, returning to his example, Walton states that “the fact that Charles is quasi-afraid as a result of realizing that make-believedly the slime threatens him generates the truth that make-believedly he is afraid of the slime. ” In other words, because he goes along in the game, he also participates in the game of fear, which can be interpreted by an outsider as real fear (physiological characteristics) and fake fear (stay seated and not run or alarm). However, you could say that he himself, and people in general, believes in fiction, but in a fictional way. This explains that he does not run away but still has fun in what is actually an illusion, like a hallucination for the person who intoxicates is an external image and thus for him or her really exists (Pauwels & Peters 2005). Yet Walton says: “Rather than somehow fooling ourselves into thinking fictions are real, we become fictional.” In reality, we don't believe it, but in fiction we do, because we have become part of it ourselves. So Walton sees fiction as a (innocent) game where the spectator is a player in that game at the same time. (which, by the way, is also a paradox!)

Vision Stumpel
Jeroen Stumpel discusses in his article “Iconitine and other stimulants” how he imagines the discipline of iconography but also hints his view on our issue. He argues that although pictures resemble what they have to represent, for example the painting of the 'lantje in Middelharnis', it is not the case because, he rightly wonders, what does “a canvas with paint stains” look like that little lanes? He also says that things that look alike are not necessarily images of each other's homestead, like one twin brother should not be seen as an image of another.
According to Stumpel, there seem to be no physical similarities, but only conventions in the game. However, according to Stumpel, agreements about meaning in no way explain why we recognize prehistoric cave drawings of animals as such, even though we do not yet understand why they were made.. This comes to the fore when he talks about monkeys who obviously do not make a whiskey themselves but can get drunk from it. According to him, it is also with images, because like alcohol, drugs or other “stimulants”, they cause certain reactions in the brain that can be traced back to an important concept in bio- and neurochemistry, namely the so-called “lock and key model”. This concept means that certain chemicals, such as endorphins, cause specific reactions, such as on the mood. Stumpel further says that “the plant world produces substances that fit almost in the same lock as endorphins”, that they do not look like it in all respects or are a symbol of it, but that they are simply 'perceived' by the receptors because they are part of the same properties have in common. It follows for Stumpel, that images can cause the same reaction as what they represent. This means that looking at the aforementioned painting of the “lanje in Middelharnis” causes a similar reaction in the brain to the real view of the lanes in Middelharnis (a small town in North Holland)
In short: Stumpel's vision is that a willing suspension of disbelief is not necessary to enjoy art or, if you will, fiction. In his eyes, art itself is already a kind of stimulant that triggers certain neuro chemical processes, so that we (initially) no longer realize that what we see or experience is unreal.

Summary and Conclusion
The contrast in analysis and arguments of Walton and Stumpel may now be clear. While Walton suggests that fiction can be a far-reaching experience and that fictional performances are voluntarily caused because the spectator is involved in the make-believe game, Stumpel's article is clearly more negative in tone when he explains how 'false keys' almost automatically cause certain neuro-chemical responses. (because the organism is built like that) Stumpel understands that images can deceive or even seduce man, which may also explain events such as the statue storm or, for example, the ban on images in Islam. So it seems to be that images, or Stumpel's' stimulants', can 'numb' a human being so that he no longer sees that they are not real and in such a way have a big (and maybe even addictive) influence. According to Walton, it's just a matter of playing along the game. The reason that people watch netflix series massively is probably because they want to recognize themselves in the (emotions of the) fictional characters. This may also be due to the functioning of the (still hypothetical) 'mirror neurons'.

Personally, I think Mr Stumpel's argument sounds the most convincing, because fiction is not just a game, but visual stimuli also have a demonstrable influence on the brain. Coleridge, the creator of the term that gave rise to the writing of this article, although he lived in a time of scientific revolution, did not, in my opinion, take account of it.


N.B.
The term “willing suspension of disbelief” and especially the word “suspension” is, in my opinion, also unhappily chosen because it is not about just putting away your disbelief for a short time, but in fact constantly. Otherwise, for example, a detective series would make some serious attempts to warn the police, and since no one does, there must be a constant conviction of inauthenticity.