“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” – Dead Poets Society
When you look at a good proportion of both the scientific and business communities, there is a tendency to look down at the arts and works of fiction. I experienced a good deal of this during my university days, because I was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and English literature. Many of my peers scoffed at my decision, saying that it would have been much more “useful” for me to pursue a degree in chemistry or commerce.
While there is certainly value in scientific and financial analysis, there is also great value in considering various works of fiction. The value of watching television, enjoying movies, and reading novels extends far beyond the sheer sake of entertainment. Fiction holds value well beyond acting as a simple diversion. It gets you to think, to see the world in ways that you may not have otherwise considered.
I’ve said before that you are what you read, but this does not mean that you should avoid “indulging” in fiction. Reading something that is fictional does not make you fake; it connects you much deeper with the world around you.
X-Men (and the Rest of the Marvel Universe)
Growing up, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was X-Men. I never really got into the actual comic books themselves, but I was fascinated with that half hour of animated mayhem every weekend. Sure, the primary appeal would be the epic battles and the fascination with superhuman abilities, but there’s quite a bit more to the X-Men universe than that.
The treatment of mutants in the X-Men universe acts as an allegory for discrimination in the real world. These mutants are persecuted and discriminated against, just like the systematic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination that we find in modern society. The mutants, despite their superpowers, are still human beings and that serves as a core message of X-Men. There’s also the pressing message of hope for mankind. Yes, we can.
Hamlet (and Other Shakespeare Plays)
William Shakespeare was a wonderfully brilliant man and he continues to serve as a source of inspiration for many people. His plays did not always have an explicit moral message to them, but many of these plays (and poems) do have something to say about society and the human condition.
For example, Hamlet gets us to consider the ramifications of indecision. The title character struggled with an internal battle, not being able to decide whether or not he should avenge his father’s death. After all, avenging his father would mean killing his uncle. What would you do?
Jurassic Park (and Other Michael Crichton Novels)
Michael Crichton was easily one of my favorite authors growing up and I’m saddened to hear about his recent passing. The great thing about Michael Crichton was that he was able to take the current state of technology and push it just a little further into what could be possible. In this way, his novels weren’t so much about science fiction as they were about science fact.
More importantly, Crichton’s novels got me interested in areas that may not have otherwise piqued my interest. Jurassic Park got me thinking about DNA manipulation (and furthered my fascination with dinosaurs). The Terminal Man introduced me to medical psychology and the study of human behavior. Prey enthralled me with nanotechnology and the dynamics of the swarm. Believe me, I would not have picked up some scientific journal or textbook to research these areas, but I’m more than happy to pick up a great novel exploring these topics.
Fiction is an important aspect of the human existence. In between sessions with the Wall Street Journal and CNN, don’t forget to “indulge” in the worlds of fiction too.