Although we take it somewhat for granted that our readers are interested in the science of fiction, this enterprise should probably not escape question. Why should we study literature and film with a method of observation borrowed from physics and chemistry? Can a science of fiction be anything but reductive? Do we cheapen our experience of art by placing it under a microscope? Or, more accurately, by placing tiny parts of it under a microscope and attempting to generalize to the whole. These are not trivial questions, and a number of valid, and even opposing, perspectives on this issue can be easily defended.
For myself, I believe in the scientific study of fiction because I believe in science. Basic science, specifically, or science for science's sake, with no necessary reference to some predicted application. In other words, I believe that we should be making careful observations of our world in order to better understand it, and that scientists have long ignored many aspects of our world that seem important: such as fiction.
Another reason why I believe in the science of fiction is that I believe in fiction. I believe it is a powerful force in the lives of many, if not all, of us. Moreover, I detect a troubling trend in our culture whereby science is becoming over-valued relative to art. Both are ways of shedding light on truth and neither should be privileged over the other. One way to restore a balance, I believe, is the scientific study of art. If fiction, as art, can be demonstrated to have important consequences that are measurable and reliable, our culture will begin to pay more attention to art and its role in our lives. This, at least, is my hope.
Jonathan Gottschall wrote a very interesting article on the necessity of a science of literary fiction for the Boston Globe, which appeared on the front page of the 'Ideas' section. It is a concise and compelling argument, but only one side of this debate. I would be interested to hear our readers' thoughts on this issue, including the many possible counterpoints to the points raised by myself and Dr. Gottschall.