Letters Column for August 2006: The Question Dividing the Fictional from the Real

Posted on September 7, 2006 by Jenna

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Being a creature of wild whimsy, tonight I respond in depth to the comments on the last letters column!

As someone who’s bisexual, I’d like to point out that “straight” or “gay” are not the only options that Max has. And why is Max’s orientation the important thing? Shouldn’t Sid have a say in things? (I find myself wondering if Sid is even capable but then I suppose that he constructs his own body, so if he’s not now he could become so.)
— David Goldfarb

It’s the dharma of a god to view certain moral and causal relationships from the other side.

I bathed in the sun
And it ran its
Glowing burdens down
Along my skin
And I wondered, is this
Day a woman?
Would that make me
Gay as its light
Pours over me, or straight
If it were a man?
And is the day in the halls of time
Asking itself that question
Checking itself for the genitalia
Some unkind fate
Has forgotten to bestow
Upon the sky?

I think these are the kinds of questions that are relevant for Max, who is a human, but not for Sid. Sid is a siggort. He was born in a swirl of knives. He is made of the mating between the starry vastness and the world.

Which is to say, ‘they’re fictional because they aren’t in this world’, or to phrase it as a proper question, ‘How can one exist in two worlds at once?’
— Aliasi


I have a serious problem with counterfactuals. (“If A had happened, then B would have happened.”)

I suspect that I may have a naive and underinformed opinion on them but I’m not sure how to answer this without spouting off my opinion anyway.

Basically, it’s like this.

Nobody has ever managed to correctly observe something that didn’t happen, happening. So nobody has ever had any sound empirical evidence that counterfactuals work the way we think they do.

There is no hard science of counterfactuals. There’s only a few astroturf papers published by the Center for What Would Have Been Sound Public Policy, If.

So I don’t think you can reasonably say, “I am not observing a fictional angel in this room, but I would if I were in the world where that fictional angel exists.”

Ruling out that kind of statement I find the evidence that something exists in another world is thin on the ground. Either I perceive it or I don’t. If I perceive it, and I later discover that it is fictional, then that is how it exists in two worlds at once: in that I have evidence for its existence but also for its fictionality.

Hitherby Dragons is a narrative.

One of the defining characteristics of a narrative is a constructed observer. The story is told from a certain perspective or set of perspectives. This manifests—

I assume—

Through the medium of a roughly equivalent perspective that each reader constructs in their mind.

So in context one imagines that things are “actual” when described to exist. Things are fictional when described as fictional. A short presentation of a creature both fictional and real is something like:

“I wasn’t a worm,” says Ink. “I was a fictional character.”

It’s time to talk a little bit about what Hitherby characters mean by “legend.”

A legend (or a fiction) contains signal and relevance. It is causally contingent upon real events and it can in turn affect real events through the medium of those who perceive the legend.

In a certain sense fiction is not physically manifest. The fiction of a falling table does not manifest the crushing impact of a falling table. Fiction created in a sealed environment can not leave that environment unless one preexisting thing also leaves that environment. One cannot hug a fictional friend. Private, unshared fictions do not typically move items about when one is asleep.

As the Buddha pointed out, this form of “not physically manifest” has very limited meaning.

What we can say about fiction’s nonexistence is that fiction is iconic. It describes something that it is not. We may make true and valid observations of the fiction but we cannot make true and valid observations of the thing the fiction describes.

If you consider the matter from the perspective of the denoted thing, there really isn’t any way for it to ever become real.

Saying something like “I am fictional, but I will perform this process and become real.”—

That doesn’t work because the process is fictional, the result is fictional, and the outcome is that one remains fictionally real.

The problem must be tackled from the other side—from the perspective of the thing that denotes.

In that sense every question that separates a fictional thing from being real is some variation of, “But what will I do about it?”

I denote Ink Catherly. But what will I do about it?

I contain within myself a legend of my soul. But what will I do about it?

I believe that I have a purpose. But what will I do about it?

I want to be a certain kind of person. But what will I do about it?

I should point out that your idea, Aliasi, is by no means wrong. I was deeply affected by Heinlein’s wackier latter days. I’m pleased that you reminded me of them. I also suspect you’re on to something really neat with your question about living in two different worlds.

But I have strong opinions and a letters column to share them in. ^_^

Now Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument, on the other hand, is one gorgeous proof.
— Eric

Preach it, brother!

Am I overlooking an obvious reason why “P, and it is possible that P” or “P, and P does not lead to a contradiction” doesn’t describe an is?
— Eric

The big thing is that “isn’t” is slang.

Much like Max’s sexuality, the symbolic logic isn’t really part of the story—it’s something that I chat about with y’all in the letters columns. So it would be a mistake to imagine that the logic is fundamental and the characters are incidental.

A fairy—

Not always the most logically precise of sources—

Coined the term “isn’t” to explain why the modern gods are tangibly worse at producing material changes in the world than her interviewer felt they ought.

I think the best data you currently have on what this state actually is is “severed from the world by an unanswered question.”

Arguably I should have come up with a few other terms by now, but I like the word “isn’t.”

That is the greatest combination of Under the Sea and Master of Puppets EVER.
— Ford Dent

Thank you for your kind words!

So, if I were to attempt to define “Is” in a Hitherby context, I believe the best available definition to me would be “Has the ability to choose for themselves.”
— Penultimate Minion

Ding ding ding!

There is definitely something to that. How it relates to all the material above I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

But there’s something else about the deliberate choice to introduce seriousness into things that society insists are just for children (where children are sentimentalized as not having to face anything serious) and a concomitant playfulness in addressing serious things through means that society insists are not capable of handling them.
— rpuchalsky

It is deliberate but it is currently based on instinct and not reason. I think I figured out once why it was important in Hitherby and then forgot. *^_^*

So let me know if you figure it out!

(∃(P) ∧ ¬ISNT(P)) ⇔ IS(P)
— Mithrandir

I was going to write “correct!”

But hm.

I am not 100% sure that one can categorize the Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions as isses or isn’ts. So there may be, as you mention, a third state for extant entities. There is also, as rpuchalsky points out, the issue of chimerae.

Really, I don’t see anything odd about them loving each other without it being sexual. Although such friendships aren’t as popular in literature as they used to be, people never stopped having them.
— Eric

A sound point!

But that doesn’t seem to fit the Hitherbyverse quite right, in that there should be space for things which don’t cause woglies whether they exist or not, and possibly even things which do cause woglies whether they exist or not.
— cariset


I can imagine an alternate Hitherby in which there is a universal wogly authority that assigns to some things woglies to erase them from being and uses woglies on other things to compel them to be. That would leave room for creatures slinking in the cracks and for great wogly-spitting lantoons that manufacture contradictions incessantly. I think the two versions of Hitherby would be homomorphic.

In this version, as I’ve written it, it is a power granted to each being that they may summon forth or contain woglies. It is a personal and inalienable grace. It is not the grinding machinations of the universal wogly authority at work. It is private and in some ways intimate. People make themselves into isn’ts, and forcing them to do so is abuse. There are limitations on the process but they are nominally inherent to people as individuals.

Really, what we’re talking about here is basic modal necessity, right?
— Eric

… possibly!

Also, what DID happen to Rahu?
— Hitherby Admin

He’s at a book signing in Singapore. I can’t use him until he gets back! It’s very sad.

(He probably won’t do much until the story reaches June 8, but I haven’t decided if he’s unconscious, has skulked off, or is hiding.)

Also, as we know, Jane’s world contains contradictions. They have winky eyes! Still, despite this, it appears that it’s not the case that everything in Jane’s world is simultaneously true and false, as one might expect. Woglies eat consistancy, but locally, rather than spreading out through the whole system at the speed of deductive reasoning.
— Eric

Arguably the woglies are conditioned on assumptions.

I am not actually making this argument. I don’t agree with it. I just think it’s an interesting argument to make, re: the speed of deductive reasoning!

I suspect that Mr. Schiff might have stashed Rahu somewhere, perhaps at Tirunageswaram.
— rpuchalsky

Hee. ^_^

Or perhaps every being that is an “is” is automatically an agent of the natural order.
— rpuchalsky

All but one.

Or perhaps Martin is an agent of change, change being a part of the natural order
— Penultimate Minion

C.H.A.N.G.E. Force! By day, they gather lost coins for the U.S. Mint. By night, they battle werewolves at the La Brea Tar Pits! They combine their powers using special rings Ben Bernanke gave them. They have a helicopter!

Wouldn’t X-Ray vision be more appropriate for looking through others with compassion?
— cariset

That’s not compassion! They could mutate and grow extra arms! Arms that would bind them inevitably into an infinite cycle of rebirth, pain, and suffering! And also shoot lasers!

That’s not compassion at ALL!