Sunday, 23 January 2011

The scope of fiction

Something weirder than normal today, and absolutely enormous. To understand it best you probably need to have been following the posts here over the past few days. Because of this I recommend you at least skim these three before reading any further.

  • Sensor range, on reconciling ghosts with hard sci-fi etc. and the soul with deep physics, plus what remains when measurable life signs end and a possible nature of information
  • All ways?, a list of fictional portals which has grown massively, and is still growing - with no end in sight - thanks to the good readers of this blog
  • Sizing up dimensions, an attempt to define 'dimension' in fiction

You might also want to look at the last card in yesterday's post. It gets to the point.

Done all that? Well, the bad news is no cartographer with experience of hyperdimensional manifolds came forward, so I had to make a start on the mapping myself. So here's my attempt at sketching the scope of fiction. It's only a sketch mind, a starting point for discussion, so be kind. The point is to show where the human imagination can and does roam, whether in cinema, comics, literature, gaming or any other sphere, including dreams, even in pseudo- and semi-pseudoscience. Everything.

Here's what I came up with.




The part we can argue about best is E through H, and some might say only F and G in an informed way. I probably wouldn't be one of them.

Here's the legend then. Remember, this is an image of an understanding of all the possibilities of fiction, not an image of an understanding of all the possibilities of 'fact'. Bear in mind too that language breaks down beyond E through I, as the post on defining 'dimension' suggested. I've preferred Greek over Latin if the English was ambiguous, and if I've got my translations wrong, I'd be glad of correction.

A - kenōma (space, vacuum, in the sense of available capacity)
B - erisma (matter, in the sense of potential for structure)
C - information
D - the polycosmos (i.e. the multiverse, with apologies to Paul Barnett)
E - human perception
F - scientific knowledge
G - the known universe
H - the perceived universe
I - the whole universe

It's not to scale by the way, but then it is in only two dimensions anyway so I can't imagine anyone minds that. Don't forget I'm teasing a little with this. I'm half-serious.

There's only one thing to ask really. Have I covered everything? If something fictional doesn't fit, or could be given a better defined space, then there's room for improvement. Think magic, ghosts, planes, fantasy worlds, AI, time, multi-dimensional lifeforms, the lot. There must be plenty of room for improvement. Any and all thoughts welcome.

20 comments:

Paul´s Bods said...

The 4th dimension maybe (or is that percived) and the darkmatter bit with quarks and such like
Cheers
Paul

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Th unknown universe? That would seem like it fits some things better than the rest of these. Though defining it is problematic, and I can't name anything which fits it just now.

Harald said...

Where does the spiritual fit into this map?

Porky said...

@ Paul's Bods - Phew! Easy starter, I think. That would be area G, H and/or I, in that it's part of our universe, or at least considered to be for the purposes of fiction.

@ C'nor (Outermost_Toe) - I agree; the known universe is definitely the easy bit!

@ Harald - Ah, Harald. Someone needed to ask, and I'm not surprised it's you. That's the big one, the first of the big ones anyway. Here we go then. If we perceive it, it's at least E and H, if not F and G yet. The map is not a representation of actuality of course, just a shorthand. We can assume that the area of human perception is current and average, which means that it could expand - or shrink - over time, but also that some individuals may perceive more of the polycosmos than others. It's hard to imagine human perception crossing over into pure erisma devoid of information, or kenōma even, because how then would the individual experience this? That said, it might be accepted there are regions in the polycosmos where information is thinner and erisma thicker, or where both are thinner, and that in this model of fiction this is what accounts for spiritual experiences.

Harald said...

I am detecting a slight humanist angle here, Porky ;)

Kenōma, erisma, and information are the only elements not entirely encompassed by the polycosmos, while the rest are. So, before I attempt a dissection of your beautiful model, what is it exactly you mean by polycosmos?

Porky said...

Humanist is going too far. The map is intended to embrace the spiritual and supernatural by giving them vast spaces, or even all spaces, which would be omnipresence. I'm trying to approach it more from the point of view of a weak agnosticism or ignosticism.

By fictional polycosmos I mean simply the fictional multiverse, or all possible realities based on information making potential structure real, and so forming a perceptible space. The intention is to cover every possible reality in fiction whether in our universe or not.

In a tongue-in-cheek sense, kenōma, erisma and information are like the book, the ink and the story, or maybe the publisher, the editor and the author.

Greg Christopher said...

Very cool, Porky. Nice diagram

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

It could probably be argued that religion fits in under "Perceived" and "known" universe, and the faithful would just picture another circle encompassing all of your diagram.

Porky said...

@ Greg Christopher - I'm sure I had at the back of my mind that sense of colour you have in your materials. Hopefully I did it justice! I'm happy with how it turned out, but changes can still be made.

@ Dave G_Nplusplus - There might be some fans of non-overlapping magisteria that disagree with the first idea! The second though does seem unanswerable.

Harald said...

I've been thinking about this one for a while now, and if we were to put the spiritual (as spirits and whatnot -- it is a diagram of the fictional worlds, after all) in the Polycosmos, my sense of reality is not threatened by your map :)

Interesting stuff, this.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Really, science and spiritual aren't compatible when trying to map them together. Each can be drawn on a map of the other's, but they'll disagree on the appropriateness of such a mapping.

aka, Science may be one day able to draw spiritual on their map, but spiritual will disagree with where it's drawn.
AND
Spiritual could draw a map that includes science, but science would disagree with it's place.

Harald said...

@Dave:
Two words: Event Horizon.
The spiritual and science can, and should, be able to fit in the same box. Granted, they tend to chafe, but the conflict makes for great stories. And the whole point of a fictional universe is the story.

Remove fiction from the equation and the precepts change.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Heh, Event Horizon is a perfect example..

I guess my point is just that neither side will accept the other's explanation. Taking Event Horizon as an example, scientists wouldn't admit that their warp drive opens a path to literal hell, just like religion would come up with their own explanation.

Harald said...

And that's what makes it a good story. No one would willingly make a device that teleported the devil into their space-ship, and so the scientific denial serves as the important plot-point in this scenario.

Other examples include 40K and Star Wars.

Jennie said...

I find it intriguing that you place human perception largely outside of the "whole universe". I would also think that all of scientific knowledge would be encompassed by the whole universe and that it would largely overlap the "known universe". Maybe I am losing something in these definitions?

Porky said...

This is only intended to be a representation of what we find in fiction, not fact - that would be rather beyond me..! The idea is that with all the other universes, planes and dimensions we find mention of in fiction - here presumably all coming under 'polycosmos' - we are shown to perceive far more than just our universe; in that the experiences are sometimes given 'scientific' explanations, scientific knowledge here also overlaps.

Jennie said...

So, let me try a few exercises to see if I understand your definitions and can apply them in practice. Let me know if this jibes with your vision of how this would work out:

1) Warp drives, ansibles, and extraordinary human powers that are said to have a physical or biological basis but which are inconsistent with current "real world" science would be elements of the sets A-F, but would fall outside G, H, and I. (I had to remember to leave teleportation out of this one, because, at least on a very small scale, it now falls into G, H, and I)

2) Ghosts, spirits, and angelic visitation would, unless explained further, be outside F and G, but be included in all other sets, since people here and now in our universe do perceive them.

3)"Hard" SF story elements which are completely consistent with "real world" scientific knowledge but which posit currently unknown (but possible and even likely) developments or discoveries, such as advanced alien life forms, would be members of every set except G.

4) Trans-dimensional beings that are unable to be completely perceived by humans would fall into sets A-D.

5) I'm trying to figure out what would fall in the region covered only by A and C. The contents of most elementary physics textbooks, perhaps? Frictionless planes, massless string, and other such abstractions that could never manifest in the material world? Internally consistent systems of logic or mathematics that correspond to no actual physical phenomena? I'm having an even more difficult time with what would fall into A and B only.

Very interesting stuff...thank you so much for indulging me as I play with it!

Porky said...

Okay, here goes!

1) If the map is a picture of the situation in fiction, real-world science isn't so important. If this is the case, and the things listed are consistent with scientific knowledge in the fiction, they would need to be either F or G.

2) Yes, they could be in all other sets, but E and/or H certainly, in that if they are perceived they would need to be in at least one of those.

3) Again, if this were a map of the present situation, almost, in that they would need to be potentially perceptible to us, and so in E and/or H. If this is a map of the situation as it is in fiction, and they are scientifically known in that fiction, then they would need to be in at least F and/or G. If they are not scientifically known in that fiction, they would be outside of F and G.

4) Right, but not necessarily all of the four areas. Also, depending on what we mean by dimension, they could also be in I.

5) Well, my thinking on this is not as clear as it was when I first put it together, but I would say that the point was to get less a potentially 'true' description than one that did justice to the nature of fiction. In that sense A-C could be understood as ponderings on the nature of the story: space filled with a combination of information and form. Looking back over the discussion as a whole, a reply I gave to Harald might give a sense of how I thought of them.

"It's hard to imagine human perception crossing over into pure erisma devoid of information, or kenōma even, because how then would the individual experience this? That said, it might be accepted there are regions in the polycosmos where information is thinner and erisma thicker, or where both are thinner, and that in this model of fiction this is what accounts for spiritual experiences."

If any of this seems off, definitely get back to me. As for indulging you, my pleasure! In fact, it might be more you indulging me..! In my view this post is one of the most important here. As well as being good fun, it seems to me to be a potentially very powerful tool in thinking about and perhaps better understanding how we think about where we are, and to the extent that subjectivity is an element of that, maybe even actually where we are.

Jennie said...

I think I have found part of the difficulty I am having using this map. I'm a little unsure about who the person reading the map is, and where the person reading the map stands. Is this a map for authors and readers in this universe to look at fiction (and the conceptual space that it occupies) from the outside, or is this intended to be a representation of fictional universes from the inside, that is, from the perspective of the characters participating in the fiction?

Some of your replies seem to me to use the former perspective, and some the latter, and I am not sure how I should be looking at this.

For example, here, you seem to be taking the first view:
"...The idea is that with all the other universes, planes and dimensions we find mention of in fiction - here presumably all coming under 'polycosmos' - we are shown to perceive far more than just our universe; in that the experiences are sometimes given 'scientific' explanations, scientific knowledge here also overlaps. "

But in your most recent response, you take the latter perspective in some places:
"3)...If this is a map of the situation as it is in fiction, and they are scientifically known in that fiction, then they would need to be in at least F and/or G. If they are not scientifically known in that fiction, they would be outside of F and G."

I think my first impulse is to look at it as a map for people in this universe to understand what we have to draw on and how we can organize it as we engage in the creative process. For me, looking at it from inside a fictional work brings up the issues about scientific knowledge not being completely subsumed within the known universe (as defined within the story), human perception being somehow outside the whole universe (as defined within the story), and some of the other points I was confused about earlier.

Porky said...

Your first impulse has it. The map was intended for use by us here and now, and to be of the scope of fiction, i.e. looking from the outside in. I agree that to have the point of observation inside would cause trouble.

The conditional in the latest comment could perhaps be in part my not trusting myself to give unequivocal answers after so long, a slight hedging..! That said, I was mostly just trying to move in to the answers carefully, though I see now I could have done it better. Answering your questions has blown some of the cobwebs out and freshened the subject up a bit for me, and for that I'm grateful.