The first words contained in almost every novel are some version of “This is a work of fiction…” Rarely do we stop and think that our capacity for fiction is perhaps the most defining hallmark of Homo sapiens, more so than big brains, bipedal locomotion, use of tools, and even language.
There are many theories behind the overwhelming success of our species from the standpoint of DNA replication. In Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, he postulates that it is our invention of fiction. He points out that geopolitical constructs, racial enmity, and religious dogma have served as tremendous organizers of human enterprise over our brief existence—but they aren’t “real,” like gravity and radioactivity.
Fiction is also a teaching tool, as President Barack Obama commented in a conversation with Marilynne Robinson, as reported in the November 5, 2015 issue of the The New York Review of Books:
“…the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found…”
Touched by Fatality raises the question of the difference between reality and the stories we tell ourselves. Perhaps our beliefs are no more real than the product of a deluded mind, a desert mirage or the image we see in a mirror.