Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Future?
I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. Not least because I’ve just finished reading Daniel Gardner‘s fantastic book on the subject.
One of my misgivings in writing Vulture’s Gate is that I’ve always been suspicious of doomsday prophesies and was amazed to discover that I felt compelled to write about a totally dysfunctional, post-apocalypse world. And yet I couldn’t tell the story I wanted to tell without harnessing some of the powerful images and ideas that went with a futuristic dystopia. I’ve been relieved to note from the early reviews that most readers feel the book offers hope. Because, despite all, I am hopeful for the future. I loved that Gardner’s book, despite it’s gloomy topic, explained the mechanisms of fear. In clear, accessible prose, Gardner reviews hundreds of studies done on ‘risk’ and our responses to fearful situations and presents a compelling argument for optimism.
My copy of Gardner’s book is so crammed with post-it notes, it looks like I’ve been studying it for an end-of-year exam. It’s definitely one of the best works of popular science that I’ve read in a long time. I could probably write a dozen blogs from spin-off ideas this book has generated but perhaps it’s worth just quoting Gardner in a chapter where he explained the way memories are formed and used to measure risk:
“There is obvious survival value in remembering personal experiences of risk. But even more valuable for our ancient ancestors – and us, too – is the ability to learn and remember from the experiences of others. After all, there’s only one of you. But when you sit around the campfire after a long day of foraging, there may be twenty or thirty other people. If you can gather their experiences you will multiply the information on which your judgements are based twenty or thirty times.”
What a great argument for books and reading! I love the size of the tribe that fill my bookcases.
Much of the information that Gardner presents in his book confirms the invaluable nature of narrative and how we use it to shape our understanding of the world. Risk – The Science and Politics of Fear (which is sub-titled ‘How the Culture of Fear Manipulates your Brain‘) -clarified much about how risk and fear shape our responses to the world and why they work so powerfully in fiction.