Burgess Laughlin

What is the story-reader's experience?

24 posts in this topic

When an objective reader reads a story, what happens? In other words, what is the state of mind that arises from reading a well-written story, the kind of state of mind in which time passes quickly, and the reader is largely oblivious to his immediate surroundings?

My purpose in asking this question is trying to understand better how to tell a story well.

By "story" I mean a purposeful accounting of a logically connected series of human events, which, taken together, have meaning to the storyteller and, he expects, to his audience.

To simplify matters, let's start with fictional stories in written form, though I suspect the principles of printed, fictional storytelling and story-reading are the same for nonfiction and for oral and cinematic storytelling and hearing as well.

An example of a printed, fictional story familiar to most participants in this forum is The Fountainhead. When I first read it, at 17, I was enthralled. I felt like I was there seeing Howard Roark laugh, dive into the lake, walk back to his rooming house, and speak to the dean of the school of architecture.

What does the reader's mind do? I see these basic steps:

1. I look at symbols -- letters and words on a page.

2. My subconscious calls up the ideas named by the symbols -- such as lake, rock, sky.

3. Each of these ideas refers to facts that I have seen and call up from memory or that I can imagine by drawing on facts that I have seen.

4. Each fact evokes an emotion from my subconscious.

5. Through a process akin to conceptual abstraction, I integrate particular emotional responses into an overall response to a particular scene, and then, wider, to a chapter, and then, still wider, to the whole book -- resulting in a sense of life experience.

Many other, related questions arise.

First, what else happens in the reader's mind as he reads?

Second, is the idea of "suspended disbelief" an objective one; and if so, what role does it play?

Third, what is the role of "mood" -- an idea university English departments seem to emphasize today -- in either creating a story or in reading one?

The essential question is: What happens in the reader's mind when he reads an enthralling story?

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The essential question is: What happens in the reader's mind when he reads an enthralling story?

The reader sees in his own mind (i.e., imagines) the same scene, entities, and events that the writer intends him to see.

In order to do that, the writer has to describe the scene, the entities, and the events in the amount of detail necessary to make them real in the reader's mind. The most effective way of doing that is to employ descriptions that are (1) concrete and (2) invoke sensory qualities. You can see that at work in all of Ayn Rand's fiction. Read a passage from one of her novels and introspect as to how her concrete, sensory descriptions allow you to imagine the scene, the entities, and the events.

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The reader sees in his own mind (i.e., imagines) the same scene, entities, and events that the writer intends him to see.

Yes, if the writer is sufficiently skilled and the reader is sufficiently knowledgeable -- but even then the reader sees the very few particular elements of the scene selected by the writer and supplies the rest of the elements from his own imagination (that is, elements of memory integrated and extrapolated -- all in the subconscious).

For example, if a writer says, "at the beach," that alone might be sufficient for the reader to create an image, even an image that includes things (an abandoned beach ball) the writer never intended. So the reader's role seems, judging from introspection, to be active in part.

In order to do that, the writer has to describe the scene, the entities, and the events in the amount of detail necessary to make them real in the reader's mind.  The most effective way of doing that is to employ descriptions that are (1) concrete and (2)  invoke sensory qualities.

I am unsure of the distinction between "concrete" and "sensory." If I say "hollow oak tree," that is concrete? (Is "concrete" a synonym for "entity"?) If I describe the tree as having "rough, gray" bark, then that would be sensory.

Further, isn't everything concrete sensible and vice versa? Or course, a storyteller need not specify everything. He might say "tree" without specifying any sensory qualities, leaving those to the reader to supply in the image that the reader builds.

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I have found that good writers create a "mental movie" in that the descriptions of the scene are sufficient to imagine seeing the scene. Also, the scene has to be integrated with the actions of the characters and the events. I am not an avid fiction reader, but the most remarkable writer I found with this skill is Victor Hugo, especially his book The Man Who Laughs. When I read his books, I feel like I'm watching a movie unfold.

As far as putting things into a scene that the writer did not intend (the beach ball example), either the reader is not focused on the content of the book or the author has not sufficiently described the scene to give it reality to the reader. I can hardly imagine being in focus while reading the "Howard Roark laughs" scene and all of a sudden thinking, wait, there's someone in the bushes watching Roark dive down.

I agree with the five items listed by Burgess. I think it is also important to have a good imagination. Besides having a writer who can concretize and provide sensory descriptions, the reader has to have the ability to create the image that those words describe. Just saying "the tree is on the hillside" does not invoke a very good image to me. Saying "the setting sun silhouetted the oak tree's branches that were spread across the sky" creates a real image for me. It tells me that the tree is an oak and must be very big with a lot of branches because it is of sufficient size to fill my field of view of the sky.

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I have found that good writers create a "mental movie" in that the descriptions of the scene are sufficient to imagine seeing the scene.  Also, the scene has to be integrated with the actions of the characters and the events. [...]

Strictly speaking, what you are describing is setting. A scene typically includes one or more individuals taking action in a certain setting.

In the opening of The Fountainhead, the character is Howard Roark, alone. The action is his laughter and thoughts, then other actions. The setting includes the sky, the lake, the rocks. Ayn Rand provides just enough detail that her kind of reader can imagine the "movie" of this action scene.

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Yes, if the writer is sufficiently skilled and the reader is sufficiently knowledgeable -- but even then the reader sees the very few particular elements of the scene selected by the writer and supplies the rest of the elements from his own imagination (that is, elements of memory integrated and extrapolated -- all in the subconscious).

That's true. The writer should supply the necessary, non-optional elements.

For example, if a writer says, "at the beach," that alone might be sufficient for the reader to create an image, even an image that includes things (an abandoned beach ball) the writer never intended. So the reader's role seems, judging from introspection, to be active in part.

It is. That is why I always advocate naming a well-known (to the writer) individual as the "target reader." That sets the context of what must be described in detail and what you can assume the reader knows and can fill in from his experience.

I am unsure of the distinction between "concrete" and "sensory." If I say "hollow oak tree," that is concrete? (Is "concrete" a synonym for "entity"?) If I describe the tree as having "rough, gray" bark, then that would be sensory.

Right. By "concrete" I mean specific entities and by "sensory" I mean attributes directly perceived by the 5 senses.

Further, isn't everything concrete sensible and vice versa?

Adding sensory qualities makes the entity more real in the reader's mind, so if you want to focus on an entity, it is important to give the entity sensory qualities.

Observe that fiction writers often do not write descriptions of entities and their sensory properties.

Compare:

"Howard Roark laughed."

"Petrograd smelled of carbolic acid."

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

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The reader definitely sees what the writer wants him to see — and so much more. The writer provides certain key specifics, true, but the reader's mind then takes those details and blows them up to encompass a far greater sense of space/character/movement.

I've heard countless readers say they experienced a good book as if they were watching a movie, and I've experienced the same. The reader seems to enter a very special and unique state of mind. He's virtually unaware of taking in the concepts from a piece of paper. Instead he feels almost as if he were experiencing percepts, not necessarily in the real world around him, but at least in some special vein of existence, one that he permits himself to experience only so long as he's reading a story.

(Obviously the reader is not actually seeing anything other than words. It's merely a mental orientation.)

I maintain that this illusion works partly because we learn very early to distinguish fiction from fact. We agree to enter a story with the right, imaginative frame of mind. It's called suspension of disbelief. Aristotle himself observed this unique mental attitude. In Poetics he explains that “telling lies” in literature works because, after agreeing to accept the starting premise—whether it's actually probable or not—we then feel free to accept everything that logically follows.*

Another key to the illusion is conveying the right kinds of concepts in the right order. Ayn Rand addresses this issue in The Romantic Manifesto: “In order to re-create reality [in fiction], it is the sensory-perceptual level of man's awareness that literature has to convey conceptually: the reality of concrete, individual men and events, of specific sights, sounds, textures, etc.” (p. 45) The trick is “to show and not to tell”: to show the right sensory percepts in lieu of telling what they mean. When the writer gets too talky and not showy enough, the reader finds himself trying to make sense of an endless string of boring, abstract words. He's not in “story space” anymore; he's back in “concept space”.

Incidentally, I suspect that some readers are not able to permit themselves this experience. It certainly is a wonderful state to be in.

* See Aristotle's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, S.H. Butcher, 1951, p. 95

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Minor correction: "I've heard countless readers say they experienced a good book [almost] as if they were watching a movie, and I've experienced the same."

Watching a movie is not the same as reading a good book; it's only a metaphor.

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Compare:  "Howard Roark laughed."..."Petrograd smelled of carbolic acid."..."It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."

"Howard Roark laughed." — Snappy, sharp, direct, in focus. I'm there. It puts a smile on my face.

"Petrograd smelled of carbolic acid." — This one's problematic for me personally, because I have no idea what carbolic acid smells like. In fact, I can't recall any of the acids I worked with in chemistry class ever having much of an odor either. But if I did know about it, I'm sure this sentence would have the force to put me in the Petrograd of Ayn Rand's novel.

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." — Blah, blah, blah... As I said, too talky and not at all showy. I'd rather take a nap.

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"Petrograd smelled of carbolic acid." — This one's problematic for me personally, because I have no idea what carbolic acid smells like. In fact, I can't recall any of the acids I worked with in chemistry class ever having much of an odor either. But if I did know about it, I'm sure this sentence would have the force to put me in the Petrograd of Ayn Rand's novel.

Carbolic acid was a widely used disinfectant and its odor invoked associations with hospitals, sickness, and death.

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Carbolic acid was a widely used disinfectant and its odor invoked associations with hospitals, sickness, and death.

History tidbit: Listerine is named after Joseph Lister who, in 1877, reduced the mortality rate by 50% during surgery by using carbolic acid (phenol) as an antiseptic for his instruments.

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Strictly speaking, what you are describing is setting. A scene typically includes one or more individuals taking action in a certain setting.

In the opening of The Fountainhead, the character is Howard Roark, alone. The action is his laughter and thoughts, then other actions. The setting includes the sky, the lake, the rocks. Ayn Rand provides just enough detail that her kind of reader can imagine the "movie" of this action scene.

Yes. But I was addressing an issue of what the reader's mind is doing. I think the reader is recreating, through his imagination and conceptual understanding, what the author has concretized in his writing. An attentive reader and a good author "go in opposite directions" so to speak to arrive at the same place: a grasp of the novel.

I have a few comments about your other points.

What does the reader's mind do? I see these basic steps:

1. I look at symbols -- letters and words on a page.

2. My subconscious calls up the ideas named by the symbols -- such as lake, rock, sky.

3. Each of these ideas refers to facts that I have seen and call up from memory or that I can imagine by drawing on facts that I have seen.

4. Each fact evokes an emotion from my subconscious.

5. Through a process akin to conceptual abstraction, I integrate particular emotional responses into an overall response to a particular scene, and then, wider, to a chapter, and then, still wider, to the whole book -- resulting in a sense of life experience.

In No. 2, a lake, rock or sky are not ideas, they are concepts. In the context of a story, what one is calling up into his conscious mind is the image of a lake. One is thinking about the image. One is not thinking about the concept 'lake.'

In No. 3, you may never have seen a lake or swam in a lake. One's entire experience may be from photos or paintings or other people's stories who were at a lake. And even if one had seen a specific lake, that memory may not come into play in one's recollection during reading. So the facts that one is drawing upon, may be (and probably are) previous emotional associations. Imagine if you had almost drowned in a lake as a child. The image of Roark above a lake might create some anxiety.

In No. 4, depending upon what you mean by "fact" here, if you're referring to the images I described above, it is the images and the subconscious associations you have formed that create the emotion. I'm not sure how you can claim that "each fact evokes an emotion" when it may not be any particular experience associated with the emotion, but a summing up of all those facts and experiences.

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I have a few comments about your other points.
What does the reader's mind do? I see these basic steps:

1. I look at symbols -- letters and words on a page.

2. My subconscious calls up the ideas named by the symbols -- such as lake, rock, sky.

3. Each of these ideas refers to facts that I have seen and call up from memory or that I can imagine by drawing on facts that I have seen.

4. Each fact evokes an emotion from my subconscious.

5. Through a process akin to conceptual abstraction, I integrate particular emotional responses into an overall response to a particular scene, and then, wider, to a chapter, and then, still wider, to the whole book -- resulting in a sense of life experience.

In No. 2, a lake, rock or sky are not ideas, they are concepts.

I don't know what you are talking about. Are you saying that concepts are not a kind of idea?

In the context of a story, what one is calling up into his conscious mind is the image of a lake.  One is thinking about the image.  One is not thinking about the concept 'lake.'

Except that the reader isn't thinking about the image, but rather is experiencing it, I agree. Has someone here said the reader is "thinking" about the concept "lake" when he encounters the squiggles on a page that form the word "lake," which the reader reads as the idea/concept "lake," which evokes memories (and therefore "first-level" emotions), which the imagination pulls together into the "movie"?

In No. 3, you may never have seen a lake or swam in a lake.  One's entire experience may be from photos or paintings or other people's stories who were at a lake.  And even if one had seen a specific lake, that memory may not come into play in one's recollection during reading.  So the facts that one is drawing upon, may be (and probably are) previous emotional associations.

Again, I have no idea what you are discussing. Do you hold that emotions arise without evaluations of facts (real or imagined)?

Imagine if you had almost drowned in a lake as a child.  The image of Roark above a lake might create some anxiety.

You seem to be confirming what I said: The sequence is this: symbol, idea, referent fact stored in memory, image, emotions. One's emotional responses are to facts (real or imagined).

In No. 4, depending upon what you mean by "fact" here, if you're referring to the images I described above, it is the images and the subconscious associations you have formed that create the emotion.

Emotions arise automatically from evaluations of facts (real or, in this case, imagined). An image is an image of some thing, a fact. That gives rise to an emotion -- positive or negative, strong or weak, but still an emotion.

I'm not sure how you can claim that "each fact evokes an emotion" when it may not be any particular experience associated with the emotion, but a summing up of all those facts and experiences.

Does it have to be one or the other? Isn't it possible -- as I believe I suggested in an earlier post -- that one can have emotions arise from particular facts and that a sort of "emotional abstraction" (Ayn Rand's term, ARL, p. 455) can follow, giving an emotional experience to a whole scene, for example, and ultimately to a sense of life experience in reading a whole novel?

I have a suspicion that we are talking about basically the same thing, but without having sorted out a common vocabulary.

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I don't know what you are talking about. Are you saying that concepts are not a kind of idea?

Except that the reader isn't thinking about the image, but rather is experiencing it, I agree. Has someone here said the reader is "thinking" about the concept "lake" when he encounters the squiggles on a page that form the word "lake," which the reader reads as the idea/concept "lake," which evokes memories (and therefore "first-level" emotions), which the imagination pulls together into the "movie"?

Again, I have no idea what you are discussing. Do you hold that emotions arise without evaluations of facts (real or imagined)?

Your Point No. 4 states "each fact evokes an emotion..." If you are going to revise it by stating that it is the evaluations of the facts that evokes an emotion, I'll agree with that.

You seem to be confirming what I said: The sequence is this: symbol, idea, referent fact stored in memory, image, emotions. One's emotional responses are to facts (real or imagined).

Emotions arise automatically from evaluations of facts (real or, in this case, imagined). An image is an image of some thing, a fact. That gives rise to an emotion -- positive or negative, strong or weak, but still an emotion.

Does it have to be one or the other? Isn't it possible -- as I believe I suggested in an earlier post -- that one can have emotions arise from particular facts and that a sort of "emotional abstraction" (Ayn Rand's term, ARL, p. 455) can follow, giving an emotional experience to a whole scene, for example, and ultimately to a sense of life experience in reading a whole novel?

I have a suspicion that we are talking about basically the same thing, but without having sorted out a common vocabulary.

I think we are talking about similar points. I’m trying to be as precise as I can about what is going through my mind as a reader of a novel.

Each individual word is a concept. A sentence is not a concept, it is an idea. If I’m thinking about “freedom” then that is a concept: I’m thinking about the definition and the essential characteristics that are isolated from other characteristics. When I say “people should have political freedom,” that is an idea. An idea expresses relationships among concepts. A concept could be considered an idea if the discussion is about the concept. I think that sometimes the words may be used interchangeably, but I don’t regard them as identical. An image may be considered an idea, but it is distinguished from a concept because what one has in mind may have specific measurements or non-essential characteristics. Certainly, concepts are used to create an image by specifying concretes and sufficient measurements to enable the reader to relate the concept to a particular example of the concept. But, in my opinion, it is the mental image that that is being used to evoke the emotions. In the opening of The Fountainhead, the discussion is not about “lake” but a specific lake with specific measurements and visual appearances. It is not “lake” that generates the emotional connection, but the specific lake described in the book.

I’m not sure what you mean when you state that the reader is not thinking about the image but is experiencing it. In your five parts, I don’t see where images play any role in what the reader’s mind is processing. In Nos. 2 and 3, you state that you recall the idea of lake that refers to facts that you have seen and call up from memory. No. 4 states that the facts generate an emotion. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but that seems to conflict with “Has someone here said the reader is "thinking" about the concept "lake" when he encounters the squiggles on a page that form the word ‘lake,’ which the reader reads as the idea/concept ‘lake,’ which evokes memories (and therefore ‘first-level’ emotions), which the imagination pulls together into the ‘movie’?”

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Your Point No. 4 states "each fact evokes an emotion..."  If you are going to revise it by stating that it is the evaluations of the facts that evokes an emotion, I'll agree with that.

- Each fact does evoke an emotion (that is, an emotional response).

- Emotions are automatic psychosomatic responses to evaluations of facts.

Every fact has value of some sort, and thus evokes some emotional response, no matter how attenuated. There is no "revision" here. The second is simply an elaboration of the first. Don't you have some emotional response, at whatever level, to every fact you encounter? I do. Through introspection, I also see (dimly) the hierarchy of emotional abstraction that Ayn Rand discusses, as mentioned earlier.

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Each individual word is a concept.

What concept does the word "Francisco" represent?

A sentence is not a concept, it is an idea.  [...] I think that sometimes the words may be used interchangeably, but I don’t regard them as identical.

In my usage, a concept is a kind of idea. The genus is not identical with the species.

But, in my opinion, it is the mental image that that is being used to evoke the emotions.

Now I agree but with the proviso that the process begins with the symbols on a page. They, once translated and allowed to evoke memory-images, lead to emotions. Perhaps we are merely emphasizing different parts of the causal chain.

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- Each fact does evoke an emotion (that is, an emotional response).

- Emotions are automatic psychosomatic responses to evaluations of facts.

Every fact has value of some sort, and thus evokes some emotional response, no matter how attenuated. There is no "revision" here. The second is simply an elaboration of the first. Don't you have some emotional response, at whatever level, to every fact you encounter? I do. Through introspection, I also see (dimly) the hierarchy of emotional abstraction that Ayn Rand discusses, as mentioned earlier.

How does the fact of Venus' period around the sun evoke an emotion in me? I don't want to get off topic here, but the basic fact that gives rise to values is the life of the organism. All values are based upon facts, but I don't believe that all facts imply some type of value. In fiction, this is demonstrated by the author only including those facts or descriptions that are necessary to create the emotional setting or atmosphere. Perhaps there was a car parked near the lake where Roark was about to dive into, but it has no relevance to the description because it has no emotional significance within that context. In real life, if I'm on a beach evaluating the scene before me, whether there are 10 or 20 people on the beach does not affect my emotional response if my focus is on the beauty of rising sun above the horizon. The fact of people on the beach is irrelevant to my emotional response or the value that I place on my view of the beach. Perhaps the number of people on a beach might be important if I was considering whether a crowded beach were important for solitude, but then the context drives that consideration.

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I’m not sure what you mean when you state that the reader is not thinking about the image but is experiencing it.

This gets to the core of the topic question: What happens when a reader reads an enthralling story? I read fictional stories for recreation. Thinking, for me, is very hard work. I very seldom think about -- that is, consciously form propositions about -- stories I am reading, unless it would be an interrogative about a story flaw such as, "Why did the hero do something so stupid?"

For me, the story-reading process is akin to watching a movie. I do not think about it while I watch it. (Second time through, as a critic, I might.)

In the story-reading state of mind, I experience images, that is, they happen one after another in my mind, successively. I don't consciously form and connect interrogative, indicative, or imperative propositions -- which is what thinking is.

In your five parts, I don’t see where images play any role in what the reader’s mind is processing.  In Nos. 2 and 3, you state that you recall the idea of lake that refers to facts that you have seen and call up from memory.

[bold added for emphasis.]

I don't use the word image in No. 3, but that is what I am talking about: Something -- some fact, such as a particular arrangement of sunlight, water, and trees -- seen and called up from memory.

No. 4 states that the facts generate an emotion.  Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but that seems to conflict with “Has someone here said the reader is "thinking" about the concept "lake" when he encounters the squiggles on a page that form the word ‘lake,’ which the reader reads as the idea/concept ‘lake,’ which evokes memories (and therefore ‘first-level’ emotions), which the imagination pulls together into the ‘movie’?”

Where do you see a conflict?

Your points have helped sharpened my understanding. I hope we don't lose sight -- so to speak -- of the main point: What is the process that goes on wihen the reader reads an enthralling story? Reading begins with the squiggles on the page.

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What concept does the word "Francisco" represent?

I think my context was clear that I did not intend to include proper names as representing concepts. If the context was not clear, then the preceding clarifies it.

In my usage, a concept is a kind of idea. The genus is not identical with the species.

Now I agree but with the proviso that the process begins with the symbols on a page. They, once translated and allowed to evoke memory-images, lead to emotions. Perhaps we are merely emphasizing different parts of the causal chain.

Yes, I agree. A concept is a kind of idea in the context of discussing the concept. But the words are not interchangeable. I think that "concept" as a distinct mental unit is different from "idea" as I mentioned previously. If I state "people need freedom to survive as rational beings" then my mind is using each word in that sentence as a concept defined by Miss Rand in ITOE. If not, then Rand could have introduced her epistemological theory as a "theory of ideas."

My main point was that the issue of images and how they are used to create emotions was not addressed in your 5 points. If you can include it as a 6th point, then I'm satisfied.

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In your five parts, I don’t see where images play any role in what the reader’s mind is processing.  In Nos. 2 and 3, you state that you recall the idea of lake that refers to facts that you have seen and call up from memory.

[bold added for emphasis.]

I don't use the word image in No. 3, but that is what I am talking about: Something -- some fact, such as a particular arrangement of sunlight, water, and trees -- seen and called up from memory.

I'm a little confused here. I thought you were referring to sights and memories that the person had experienced previously to reading the book, and he was using those things to form an emotional association to what he was reading. I am referring to the images created in the book that create the emotional reaction. Are we talking about two different things here?

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How does the fact of Venus' period around the sun evoke an emotion in me?  I don't want to get off topic here, but the basic fact that gives rise to values is the life of the organism.  All values are based upon facts, but I don't believe that all facts imply some type of value.

Dr. Peikoff's article, "Fact and Value" (originally published in The Intellectual Activist and now also available at the ARI website), discusses this issue. A separate topic in this forum might be helpful.

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Dr. Peikoff's article, "Fact and Value" (originally published in The Intellectual Activist and now also available at the ARI website), discusses this issue. A separate topic in this forum might be helpful.

That was a point that I disagreed with.

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This gets to the core of the topic question: What happens when a reader reads an enthralling story? I read fictional stories for recreation. Thinking, for me, is very hard work. I very seldom think about -- that is, consciously form propositions about -- stories I am reading, unless it would be an interrogative about a story flaw such as, "Why did the hero do something so stupid?"

For me, the story-reading process is akin to watching a movie. I do not think about it while I watch it. (Second time through, as a critic, I might.)

In the story-reading state of mind, I experience images, that is, they happen one after another in my mind, successively. I don't consciously form and connect interrogative, indicative, or imperative propositions -- which is what thinking is.

-----------------

That is an interesting distinction. Let's compare reading a scene from a fiction story with one of non-fiction, for example, pick any paragraph from this thread. In non-fiction, when I am reading something new, I don't consciously form and connect interrogative, indicative, or imperative propositions. I read it for the purpose of understanding what is being said. Granted that I am not forming images when reading non-fiction, but would you say that I am not thinking during my initial read though? (Of course, the foregoing would depend upon the complexity of the subject.) Perhaps on a second reading, I would ask questions about relationships among ideas to see if an argument made sense. But my first priority is to understand the content.

Similarly with fiction, my first reading is focused on understanding what is being stated. The images flow from my understanding. The reason images form in one's mind is because that is what the author is presenting. If an author stated "he dove into the lake" and I imagined that he dove into a pool, then not only is the image wrong, but my understanding of what was stated would be in error. Images don't form in one's mind when reading non-fiction because the author is not presenting images.

Is it your point that I am not thinking when I am trying to understand (apprehending) what is being stated without "consciously form[ing] and connect[ing] interrogative, indicative, or imperative propositions?"

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Let's compare reading a scene from a fiction story with one of non-fiction, for example, pick any paragraph from this thread. [...]

By "one" above, I assume you mean "one piece of writing." As it is stated, however, it seems to say "one story of non-fiction." But your further discussion suggests, not a story, but an essay or other work of non-story nonfiction. An example of a nonfiction story is a narrative history of the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941.

I would suggest a more commensurate comparison to begin with, as a first step:

1. COMPARE reading a fiction story to reading a nonfiction story.

NOT

2. COMPARE reading a fiction story to reading a (non-fiction) mini-essay on philosophy (which is what a post here is).

In non-fiction [essays, for example], when I am reading something new, I don't consciously form and connect interrogative, indicative, or imperative propositions.  I read it for the purpose of understanding what is being said.  Granted that I am not forming images when reading non-fiction [essays, for example], [...]

[i have taken the liberty of inserting clarification -- I hope -- in square brackets.]

Here, what do you mean by "understanding"? If there are multiple levels, which one?

I agree that reading philosophical essays, for example, has as its purpose understanding. If the essay is philosophical, then, yes, you probably aren't forming images, at least not mainly. However, if you are reading a nonfiction essay, for example on the structure of the Statue of Liberty, you probably will form images -- because that is what the writer is giving you words for, as you have stated correctly about fiction (that is, made-up stories).

[...] but would you say that I am not thinking during my initial read though?  (Of course, the foregoing would depend upon the complexity of the subject.)  Perhaps on a second reading, I would ask questions about relationships among ideas to see if an argument made sense.  But my first priority is to understand the content.

On a first reading of simple, short material, an objective reader might rely on straight reading, that is, letting the words, concepts, propositions flow directly into the subconscious. But even here an objective reader, reading something more than the label on a knob, would do some thinking, for example, by consciously asking himself before he begins: "Why am I reading this? What do I expect to gain? My expectation is that I will learn how to better drive on icy roads." Then he starts reading -- stopping to think, perhaps, if he encounters a puzzle or some other attention-getter.

Likewise, afterward, he should ask himself some questions such as: "What was the main point this writer made? Can I use it? Does it fit my own experiences?"

How much thinking before, during, or after reading an essay depends on a lot of factors.

Similarly with fiction, my first reading is focused on understanding what is being stated.  The images flow from my understanding.

Does "understanding" here mean the same thing as above? Understanding here seems to refer to subconscious integrations.

The reason images form in one's mind is because that is what the author is presenting.  If an author stated "he dove into the lake" and I imagined that he dove into a pool, then not only is the image wrong, but my understanding of what was stated would be in error.

Yes, but here isn't "understanding" referring to a subconscious level -- which is appropriate for reading fiction, which is mainly for recreation? But a philosophical essay -- for example, a section of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason -- cannot be understood, in the sense of being able to consciously describe it and work with it (if that's possible with CPR!) without thinking -- that is, conscious questioning (What does "noumenal" mean?) and so forth. (Of course, that is true of fiction-reading too, but normally we don't need to do a lot of conscious work with it if our purpose is recreation.)

(Of course, a philosophical novel can be a mixed case.)

Is it your point that I am not thinking when I am trying to understand (apprehending) what is being stated without "consciously form[ing] and connect[ing] interrogative, indicative, or imperative propositions?"

The question answers itself once you specify where this understanding is taking place: in consciousness or in the subconscious?

Also, I would suggest that even in the realm of conscious understanding, a reader (as Dr. Locke has pointed out so well in Study Methods and Motivation) has a choice of what level of conscious understanding he wants: mere familiarity or abstract-integrative understanding, for example.

Your point -- comparing fictional story reading to nonfictional essay reading -- is a good one. But I would like to get back to the topic of this thread.

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