Ken Fabian

Why does prophecy in fiction have a strong psychological impact?

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Posted (edited)

It has niggled at me how the use of prophecies within fiction works, because my own experience is that (despite no belief in prophecy in it's mystical rather than rational foresight forms) it does engage with my emotions and creates a sense of satisfaction when it is used.

I've noticed how a lot of fiction plays on the satisfaction and even pleasure we get in seeing Bad People suffer - best of all if what happens looks like poetic justice, ie it is not actual commissions of violence that we dislike but violence without "good" cause, against those who we think do not deserve it. Our liking of violence against those we deem deserving of it makes a sort of sense in evolutionary terms - enabling people to overcome their inhibitions and use violence that would be destructive within their kin and tribe in defense of their kin and tribe - and it persists in us, despite it's often poor targeting (no weighing of facts and evidence is required to deem someone bad - it is an emotional judgement, not rational). In that light it makes a kind of sense, but why do prophetic elements in storylines come with a strong sense of satisfaction when they occur? Is there an evolutionary element to it like the use of "good" violence has?

Off the top of my head I suspect correct prediction - of the rational foresight kind - is what this kind of response rewards emotionally and that had evolutionary advantage.

Edited by Ken Fabian

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12 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

Off the top of my head I suspect correct prediction - of the rational foresight kind - is what this kind of response rewards emotionally and that had evolutionary advantage.

This was my first thought as well. From the moment we form our first lie as a child, we learn to use the present to shape our futures by predicting the outcome of various situations. Prediction is our only real magic, and prophecy is old magic.

I think the satisfaction you're talking about is the glee we all feel when picking the correct choice in anything. Even if the prediction wasn't based on LOTS of varied data and information, even if was a flat out guess, we know that, for a short while at least, those around us will hold us in higher esteem because we chose correctly, we picked the right answer out of all the possibilities. 

This could go all the way back to the millenia we spent learning to protect our small hunter/gatherer groups. Those early humans who could predict which shadows had lions in them must have seemed like magicians. Things they predicted that came true would seem prophetic.

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7 hours ago, Phi for All said:

Prediction is our only real magic, and prophecy is old magic.

The value of correct prediction is very high - near priceless - but in the absence of scientific type methodologies, and given that humans not only have active imaginations but inexplicably, dream as well - rational prediction and irrational prophecy won't have any clear boundary.

 

7 hours ago, Phi for All said:

I think the satisfaction you're talking about is the glee we all feel when picking the correct choice in anything.

Without that clear boundary between prediction and prophecy any that turns out true can feel great - only I'm not sure they do feel the same; that absence of Reason in prophecy seems to give it more significance and an emotional impact that rational prediction does not. It seems to come with more frisson somehow. Which both sincere shamans seeking "truth" and charlatans, seeking power to influence would find significant.

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