Why we need fantasy


The great struggle of our age is to re-assert our humanity against those institutions that define and treat us as simple automatons. Freudian “Drive-Reduction Theory” attempted to minimize all life into simplistic, mechanical terms. B. F. Skinner went so far as to claim that ALL behavior results from external reinforcement: Reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior, and humans can be conditioned for the better. Utopia, therefore, is just a few conditioning sessions away …

Problem is, living things are inherently complex. Life refuses to be contained within formulas. So when behavioral scientists observed subjects ignoring rewards and spontaneously exploring and experimenting, they had to admit this impulse was internal, rather than external, as Skinner had assumed. A new term arose to describe this activity, as this refreshing article from Medium reports:

Intrinsic motivation refers to the spontaneous tendency “to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, p.70).

Exercise, games, travel, reading, and even watching TV all satisfy the seeking system to varying levels of effortful operation. On one side of the spectrum someone could climb Mount Everest, and on the other they could browse Netflix. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp defines this exploratory behaviour as being driven by the organisms innate seeking system. To reiterate, the anomaly behind seeking is that it provides seemingly very little utilitarian value — it does not fulfil some physiological needs deficit, but we do it anyway. We create our own value from within. Also fascinating, we now know that organisms behave in intrinsically motivated ways even when they are lacking ‘basic’ needs such as food, water, or shelter. How many times have you seen a homeless person reading a book? Do you think they’re practising for a job interview? No, they’re seeking.

The drive to seek, to explore, and experience new things is what attracts us to fantasy. We revolt against the dreary uniformity of globalism by seeking out realms of imagination. That’s why science fiction and fantasy fuel so much popular culture these days. The fantastic is that place where we can once again experience wonder.

39 thoughts on “Why we need fantasy”

  1. A favorite genre of mine is Magical Realism – Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a Danish writer Peter Høgh. Truth comes out through the magical and the mysterious.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bingo, bingo, bingo. (I crush my ink-tube down on my array of numerated cards and cry BINGO).

    > We create our own value from within

    And that, that stretches the gap from all lifeforms before us. We, our minds, crave new, crave novel, crave the unknown — so much that we create it ourselves, within ourselves!

    Hello, nice to meet you. Have a grapefruit and maybe a box of chocolates. And oh, bytheway, could we live in pressurized lavatubes beneath the moon’s surface?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And what value would such “agreement” have? If a parrot makes a noise that sounds like our word for “yes” when it gets a cracker, the parrot is not agreeing to anything: it is making a programmed response.
        Thus Skinner himself saws off the branch on which he stands.

        Liked by 1 person

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