Ep 429 – Sapiens: The Fiction about Fictions – Part 1

Panel Discussion

Posted December 24th, 2017

Glenn shares a piece of the previously unpublished Sapiens discussion with Heather, Jake, Randy, John Dehlin, and Andrew Evans to talk about the question of fiction. What is a fiction? What is a myth? How does the Mormon “War in Heaven” story function in Mormon culture? How does the “Big Bang” story function in secular culture? Are they both fictions? Are they both myths? Listen in as the Infants discuss, and then weigh in yourself on the debate by filling out the following brief survey:






  • I loved this—arguments and all.

    On the primary debate of myth/fiction/narrative, my initial reaction is to agree with Heather’s point that Harari distinguishes the three realities we deal with: objective, subjective, and intersubjective. If everything (to us) is a myth/narrative, it would all would fall into the subjective and intersubjective categories. There would be no need for an “objective” category and we would all be working from different foundations of understanding. No scientific progress is possible in that case.

    But if we’re defining reality more broadly: our perceptions, logic, physics, mathematics (all the sciences) compose a user interface that is internally consistent and reliable—then there’s a lot of room to categorize that as a fiction because it’s not the “whole” picture of what is real, it’s just what we’ve figured out so far.

    I think both definitions are correct. And it seems like a good example of why philosophy and science are both necessary. Scientifically, Heather is right. Philosophically, Glenn is right.

  • James Crane

    Both the term theory and myth have formal definitions and common definitions which complicate any conversation that include them. People can easily dismiss accepted scientific ideas because they are called theories. Similarly, people can easily dismiss stories because they are myths.

  • Larry

    Glenn really didn’t seem to want to accept the idea of objective reality or doesnt understand the idea. He always filtered the idea through the lense of human interpretation thus conflating the idea of objective reality with subjective or intersubjective reality. Too many strawman arguments that seemed to indicate glenn doesn’t comprehend the concept of objective reality. To his point can we just admit that we will never fully understand objective reality because we filter everything through an subjective viewpoint then move on. That doesn’t mean all fiction is equal. Some things are less so. The author was very clear and concise explaining myth as distinctly separate than objective reality and Glenn has conflated his use of myth way beyond the parameters the book lays out. Glenn might have a philosophical point he’s trying to die on but it most clearly wasn’t the authors.

    • I don’t think anyone argued that “all fictions are equal.” Some fictions compose our entire economic and legal systems. Others are narratives used by charlatans to steal money from the elderly. Some are made into poems no one will read or blockbuster movies that are household names. One does not need to equal the other in order to say they’re all fictions. Like so much in our reality, they’re on a spectrum—not discrete categories.

      I’m positive Glenn understands objective reality as a concept. Objectively positive 🙂

  • Mike

    I had this same exact argument with my wife last week. She’s trained in the humanities and I in STEM (it sounded like that was a similar split on this episode?).

    I think “fiction” usually implies a positive judgement of falseness. I understand Glenn doesn’t use it that way, but I think his use is something more like a disciplinary technical definition.

    I really like Jake’s analogy about the computer and screen. Perhaps the word “model” could capture the fact that we’re talking about something imagined/constructed, but without implying any judgement about the logical truth-value?

  • Swaggy

    I liked the clash of civilizations vibe I got from the episode.

    I don’t think Allah sent Gabriel to call Muhammad to Prophethood, but I know that it’s a reality that ~1.6 billion human beings believe in the Islamic worldview to varying degrees. Call Islam fiction, but it does unite people around the world.

    I met an Irish-American kid in Flushing, Queens in my college class who had converted to Islam after reading the Quran. He was converted by its words. He wouldn’t call his beliefs fiction, but his conversion definitely changed his life forever.