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Is fiction good for us? Add to ...

Fiction, a force for good

“Is fiction good for us?” asks Jonathan Gottschall in The Boston Globe. “We spend huge chunks of our lives immersed in novels, films, TV shows and other forms of fiction. … Until recently, we’ve only been able to guess about the actual psychological effects of fiction on individuals and society. But new research in psychology and broad-based literary analysis is finally taking questions about morality out of the realm of speculation. This research consistently shows that fiction does mould us. The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. … But perhaps the most impressive finding is just how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better, not for the worse. Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds.More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings seem to warp our sense of reality. They make us believe in a lie: that the world is more just than it actually is.”Creating fantasy worlds

An amusing vacuum cleaner

“It looks just like iRobot’s Roomba vacuuming machine, except the new circular roaming vacuum cleaner from Sharp Corp. is trilingual -- and even knows a hip humorous dialect,” reports The Associated Press. “Cocorobo, which can also send photos taken from your home to your cellphone, says 36 phrases including ‘long time no see’ and ‘hello’ in Japanese, English and Chinese. The Japanese electronics maker said Tuesday that the robot also speaks the Kansai dialect of southwestern Japan, widely viewed as more comical and witty than standard Japanese. But its linguistic abilities are designed for fun, not for following complex orders or lengthy dialogue. The machine, whose name is a play on the word for ‘heart,’ or kokoro, answers ‘So good,’ when asked ‘How’s it going?’ in the Kansai dialect. It replies the equivalent of, ‘I’m cool and feeling good.’”

How to have a better party

“A party full of successful, list-making people is always worth avoiding,” writes Terence Blacker in The Independent. “Those who are on the treadmill of ambition and advancement rarely make good company, and work hard to make you feel worse about yourself by droning on about their own silly, fretful lives. If you are planning a social occasion, remove the top five achievers from the guest list, and you will find that everyone has a better time.”

“Fan fiction has boomed in the past decade, as young people (and many adults) have swarmed online to share what-if tales set in their favourite movies, books, animation, and video games,” Clive Thompson writes in Wired magazine. “ Hunger Games fanfic? 10,692 stories. Teen Titans? 26,594 stories. Shakespeare fan fiction? Oh, yes way: 1,747 stories. You could, as many do, cluck disapprovingly at this activity. Haven’t these people got anything better to do with their time? To which I reply: No, they don’t. Because they’re creating paracosms – an activity that research is showing builds creative skills that pay off in real life. Paracosms are the fantasy worlds that many dreamy, imaginative kids like to invent when they’re young. Some of history’s most creative adults had engaged in ‘worldplay’ as children.”

Do chicks dream in the egg?

Questions about sleep can get thorny, says Discover magazine’s blog 80beats. “Are dolphins that never stop swimming sleeping? … Is someone under general anesthesia sleeping? And what about babies in the womb? Unborn babies in the womb are pretty difficult to monitor 24/7, so the researchers interested in that last question got hold of unhatched chicken eggs. In a new Current Biology paper, they report that chicks showed higher-brain activity patterns similar to sleep … When their higher brain areas were most active, the chicks themselves were actually the least active. Our brains, too, are very active during sleep while our bodies are not. Based on the chicks’ eye movements, the scientists also identified what resembled REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep stages. Muscles are paralyzed during REM – that’s the explanation for sleep paralysis – and the chicks were completely inactive during REM sleep-like stages.”

Cool name, Ty

“A 23-year-old southeast Nebraska man has legally become Tyrannosaurus Rex,” reports The Associated Press. “The York (Neb.) News-Times reports that the man entered the York County courtroom on Monday as Tyler Gold and left it with the moniker Tyrannosaurus Rex Joseph Gold. Mr. Gold says in his public filing for the change that the dinosaur’s name is cooler. He says that ‘as an entrepreneur, name recognition is important and the new name is more recognizable.’ The newspaper report does not describe his line of business.”

Thought du jour

“Fashion matters considerably more than horoscopes, rather more than dog shows and slightly more than hockey.” – Roy Blount Jr. (1941- ), American humorist

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