Could Truth be Beauty?

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Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby jewish_scientist » Thu Aug 30, 2018 10:28 pm UTC

I just watched this video on if truth is beauty. It is very interesting and I highly recommend all of his videos. In the end he points out some criticisms of this theory. Basically, how can a work of art without a moral be true? If it has a moral and that moral is true, then the art is true. However, [urlhttps://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/vincent-van-gogh-the-starry-night-1889]The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh[/url] does not have a moral, so how can it be true?

Extra Credits said that there are 3 ways video games can tell a story; plot driven, character driven, and lore driven. If we apply this to all art, then the problem is solved.

Plot driven stories are true in the sense that their thematic-level propositions are true (click first link for a citation).

Character driven stories are true in the sense that the characters’ emotions are what a person could actually feel. Most of Shakespeare's plays have actually quite simplistic and unoriginal plots. The reason he is the best play-writer in history is that he captures the essence of people’s emotions. Many painting fall in this category as well. Saturn by Goya captures and then forces a feeling of fear and repulsion on the viewer, even if you did not know the myth of Saturn that inspired the painting.

Lore driven stories are true in the sense that the history is 'consistent'. That is not really the right word, but I cannot think of a better one. What I mean is that there is a chain of cause-and-effect that explains how the world came to be in the state it is in. If it is true that the causes would result in effects, then the work as a whole is true. Tolkien spent pages upon pages of Lord of the Rings describing every aspect of the world from its creation to the present. Politics, geography, biology, economy, history, wealth, magic, language, and so much more is detailed to unbelievable precision. Note: this is different from world-building in that a world with very little history can still be well built (e.g. Fall Out series).

So, what do you guys think?
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Aug 30, 2018 10:38 pm UTC

Truths can be beautiful, I suppose. Not all truths are beautiful though. The terms are definitely not synonymous in any real sense.

Using standard tropes also does not make a story "true". It might feel realistic or not, but even that may depend on the viewer. The inconsistency that irks me may not bother another.

Lore driven stories are true in the sense that the history is 'consistent'. That is not really the right word, but I cannot think of a better one. What I mean is that there is a chain of cause-and-effect that explains how the world came to be in the state it is in. If it is true that the causes would result in effects, then the work as a whole is true. Tolkien spent pages upon pages of Lord of the Rings describing every aspect of the world from its creation to the present. Politics, geography, biology, economy, history, wealth, magic, language, and so much more is detailed to unbelievable precision. Note: this is different from world-building in that a world with very little history can still be well built (e.g. Fall Out series).

So, what do you guys think?


I prefer words like "coherent" or "verisimilitude". Realistic suffices well enough for a tale presenting a world akin to ours, but for others, the other descriptors work.

Using words like truth feels like an odd stretch, though. The sort of stretch that allows people to speak of alternative facts and what not. I can see it for a fairly anachronistic use of "true", but liking something is not equivalent to truth.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby ucim » Fri Aug 31, 2018 12:03 am UTC

"Truth is beauty" sounds like a wonderful koan, but it begs (in both senses) the question of what "truth" and "beauty" are. Yes, the words have been (ab)used to mean things that would make this koan persuasive, but that doesn't make the koan meaningful.

In order to reasonably discuss truth, beauty, or any kind of link between them, we need to define the words, and the video does not do this. This allows the viewer to read anything they want into it.

For starters, I take "truth" to mean "correspondence with objective reality". I'm assuming that there is a such thing as objective reality, something I hold to despite the weirdness that QM introduces, because if there really isn't any such thing as objective reality, I'm quite at a loss to have a handle on how the world works. This isn't the only usage of the word "truth"; in theater for example, "truth" means something more akin to "verisimilitude" - that which convinces the audience to play along, and continue their suspension of disbelief. In that sense, it means "correspondence with subjective reality". They are two very different things, and it's very important to keep this distinction in mind. Overloading the word "truth" doesn't help. But that's the word we have.

I take "beauty" to mean "that which appeals to the aesthetic sensibilities of people" (whether collectively or individually). Abstract art can be beautiful without expressing anything about reality, objective or subjective. However, even abstract art reflects (at least) subjective reality in some sense. Picasso has said (loosely translated from the Spanish) that "art is a lie that shows us the truth". I think there's a lot in that. The real question is "why is beauty beautiful?".

I would posit that in our experience with the world, we encounter things, events, people, sounds, whatever, that evoke emotions. These emotions can feel good, poignant, painful, relaxing, whatever. The emotions are "real" (or "true") in the sense that we actually felt them, but they need not be "true" in the sense that they reflect an objective reality in the world around us. They form a subjective reality in our minds.

Future experiences (to wit: art) can evoke these past subjective experiences. Art is arguably "good" if it succeeds in doing so, and especially if in doing so, it can cause only some (the "desirable") parts of those emotions to come forward, without the baggage of the undesirable parts, thus casting the audience's past experience in a new light. For example, it could evoke the pain of a breakup without actually causing you to feel again like you're actually breaking up. That would be a poignant experience; "catharsis" is often used to describe such a thing. Successful art could also synthesize some of your past experiences into a new experience that it allows you to feel for the first time.

Now, in order to succeed in evoking a past emotion, whether to present it again or to synthesize another from it, you must have experienced that past emotion in the first place. (This is speculation based on my personal experience; a test of this assertion could involve the reactions of emotionally disabled people to emotional artwork.) In that sense, beauty (the emotional aesthetic response) requires (but is not equivalent to) truth (correspondence with some aspect of the recipient's subjective reality as it was experienced at some point in time). But that's a bit of a mouthful, and it would be nice if it could be expressed in some pithy manner.

"Truth is beauty" does this, at the expense of accuracy. But it gives people something to post about and make videos about. So, that's something. :)

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Aug 31, 2018 12:22 am UTC

My aesthetics (as in my opinion on that branch of philosophy) holds to something vaguely similar to this.

Basically, beauty is the quality of a work of art "feeling right". (Purposefully conveying a feeling being the defining characteristic of art per se). That rightness can be either descriptive or prescriptive, or, since it's just a feeling, independent of propositional content entirely. If the thing that "feels right" about the work of art is its descriptive propositional content, then its beauty lies in its truth. If the thing that "feels right" about the work of art is its prescriptive propositional content, then its beauty lies in its goodness. You seem to be using the word "truth" in a way that encompasses rightness of propositions regardless of their descriptive or prescriptive nature, and speaking mostly of prescriptive propositions ("morals"), in which case yeah, the beauty of a thing can lie in the truth of its morals.

But not all beauty is of that nature, though all beauty is similar in some respects.

And beauty is not the only measure of "good" art. Tragedy and comedy in contrast both deal in things that "feel (or seem) wrong" (and differ from each other in whether they treat that wrongness with serious gravity or frivolous levity) -- and also can apply to non-narrative works of art, as there are e.g. many sad instrumental songs, and I'd argue that Fountain, 4:33, or The Treachery of Images are all comedic in a non-narrative way -- and those are still "good" kinds of art.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby ijuin » Fri Aug 31, 2018 1:35 am UTC

I am not familiar with “fountain”—can you provide a reference for us?

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Aug 31, 2018 1:47 am UTC

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby CorruptUser » Fri Aug 31, 2018 5:12 am UTC

...when the Editors of the Guide were sued by the families of those who had died as a result of taking the entry on the planet Tralal literally (it said "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal for visiting tourists: instead of "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal of visiting tourists"), they claimed that the first version of the sentence was the more aesthetically pleasing, summoned a qualified poet to testify under oath that beauty was truth, truth beauty and hoped thereby to prove that the guilty party in this case was Life itself for failing to be either beautiful or true. The judges concurred, and in a moving speech held that Life itself was in contempt of court, and duly confiscated it from all those there present before going off to enjoy a pleasant evening's ultragolf.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Aug 31, 2018 5:52 pm UTC

I think your point is more "stories need some plausibility to be enjoyable"

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Eianz » Wed Sep 05, 2018 7:05 am UTC

To me beauty is subjective not to truth but to an attribute called verisimilitude. It doesn't matter if the message is true, but if it is or could be believed to be true, it will be more beautiful.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Fri Sep 07, 2018 12:46 pm UTC

It is good to realize that the standards by which we judge, evaluate and incorporate our notions of truth, morality, etc, are purely aesthetic.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Trebla » Sat Sep 08, 2018 4:27 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Truths can be beautiful, I suppose. Not all truths are beautiful though. The terms are definitely not synonymous in any real sense.


I believe, and this could be bad interpretation by me, that this is the opposite of the intent of “truth is beauty.”

No matter how ugly a truth, it is beautiful because it is true.

This is also counter to the OP’s assessment that anything untrue (without moral? That seems unrelated) is not beautiful. “Truth is beauty” is not equivalent “only truth is beauty”. Fabrications and falsehoods can be beautiful.

Perhaps a better logical statement of the phrase is “truth implies beauty.”

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Sun Sep 09, 2018 3:01 am UTC

Also legit.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby ucim » Sun Sep 09, 2018 4:45 am UTC

If the statement is to be one of fact, then no.

But if the statement is to be a metaphor, then maybe.

And if the statement is meant to ask the question "what makes something beautiful? Could it be objectively measured?", then it is the subject of ongoing research which could lead to a deeper understanding of "taste".

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Ranbot » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:13 pm UTC

The idea of Truth = Beauty is so chock full of relativism that I find it completely ridiculous to even have a discussion and any attempt at it would be little more than verbal masturbation... but don't let me stop you if you enjoy that. :P

I will comment on this though (underlines by me)....
jewish_scientist wrote:Lore driven stories are true in the sense that the history is 'consistent'. That is not really the right word, but I cannot think of a better one. What I mean is that there is a chain of cause-and-effect that explains how the world came to be in the state it is in. If it is true that the causes would result in effects, then the work as a whole is true. Tolkien spent pages upon pages of Lord of the Rings describing every aspect of the world from its creation to the present. Politics, geography, biology, economy, history, wealth, magic, language, and so much more is detailed to unbelievable precision. Note: this is different from world-building in that a world with very little history can still be well built (e.g. Fall Out series).

I like SciFi and Fantasy books/movies/games and in my opinion (my opinion is the most absolute I can get here) what makes the difference between great and bad examples is their "lore" and ongoing consistency or continuity with the lore. I often describe this to people [who are willing to listen] as "rules" set by the creators/writers/designers that define, confine, and guide the world created. Series like Alien, Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lost, The Handmaid's Tale, Harry Potter, or The Matrix (and more) all establish "rules" for how their worlds operate usually with some form of supporting lore. However each of those series also have what myself and many others would consider very bad moments. In my opinion, the common thread typically (with some exceptions) between the bad moments are they break the series' established rules and/or lore, in turn their "truth" broken and continuity is lost... also known as the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:23 pm UTC

That is literally the least interesting part of a story.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Ranbot » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:11 pm UTC

doogly wrote:That is literally the least interesting part of a story.

Depends on the story. If you removed the fictional lore, setting, or rules from The Handmaid's Tale it would just be really bad pornography, not an award-winning book or acclaimed TV series.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Trebla » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:18 pm UTC

Ranbot wrote:
doogly wrote:That is literally the least interesting part of a story.

Depends on the story. If you removed the fictional lore, setting, or rules from The Handmaid's Tale book/TV series it would just be really bad pornography.


It may be the least interesting part of individual stories, but it's the glue that turns a story into a... what... legend? "Harry Potter and the Blah Blah of Bloopity-bloop" may get a bit dull as they describe the history of dragons or how some dark wizard fought some good wizard, but those hints about the greater universe help tie the series together and create a layer of intrigue where there's more to learn, if only you look for it.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:15 pm UTC

Trebla wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Truths can be beautiful, I suppose. Not all truths are beautiful though. The terms are definitely not synonymous in any real sense.


I believe, and this could be bad interpretation by me, that this is the opposite of the intent of “truth is beauty.”

No matter how ugly a truth, it is beautiful because it is true.

This is also counter to the OP’s assessment that anything untrue (without moral? That seems unrelated) is not beautiful. “Truth is beauty” is not equivalent “only truth is beauty”. Fabrications and falsehoods can be beautiful.

Perhaps a better logical statement of the phrase is “truth implies beauty.”


Perhaps. In any case, I don't consider truth and beauty to be identical. Many truths are not particularly beautiful, or even particularly inspiring. Sure, there's an elegance to some of the grander ideas, but some true statements are merely boring statistics, trivial truths, or useful, but highly unintuitive things. I don't think that most people are genuinely struck by the beauty of all truths. If they were, then learning math would be a more enjoyable experience for many.

As to the larger point, though, I think we're all in agreement that the statement only works in some sort of metaphorical way. We can talk about literature feeling true, but it's not meant in the same sense as evaluating a logical statement.

doogly wrote:That is literally the least interesting part of a story.


World-building may not be riveting while it's going on, but it lays the groundwork for other scenes to matter. You've got to have stakes for the conflict. If I say I'm writing a book in which the hero has to stop a villain from destroying the world...*yawn* That sounds generic as hell, and it's been done endless times. Saving the world doesn't matter unless it's a world you give a shit about.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Ranbot » Mon Sep 10, 2018 9:25 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
Trebla wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
doogly wrote:That is literally the least interesting part of a story.


World-building may not be riveting while it's going on, but it lays the groundwork for other scenes to matter. You've got to have stakes for the conflict. If I say I'm writing a book in which the hero has to stop a villain from destroying the world...*yawn* That sounds generic as hell, and it's been done endless times. Saving the world doesn't matter unless it's a world you give a shit about.

Or if the viewer even cares about the hero/main character saving the world. A common complaint of Superman is people never feel like Superman is at risk because, rare space minerals aside, there is practically no limit/constraints/rules to his power. This causes viewers not to feel invested in the Superman character, and in turn the story, and it's all due to Superman's lore. Other more popular superheroes typically have significant flaws/weakness/constraints (e.g. Batman, Wolverine, Ironman, Spiderman, etc.) established by the lore surrounding them.

Hollywood superhero movies may not be fine art, but they are collectively examples of how a fictional world's lore and rules has significant impact on story, characters, and viewer reactions to them; and the same concepts will apply to other genres.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Tue Sep 11, 2018 12:14 pm UTC

The Handmaid's Tale and Harry Potter are great examples of things I find profoundly uninteresting, yes.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Trebla » Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:13 pm UTC

doogly wrote:The Handmaid's Tale and Harry Potter are great examples of things I find profoundly uninteresting, yes.


Certainly it's not universal, some people are happiest with self-contained stories, some people prefer an ongoing universe and story arc over multiple books or years. While you may find those uninteresting, the thing that makes them interesting to their communities at large is (and this is a generalization, but probably fairly accurate) the thoroughness of their universes while at the same time being incomplete enough in "intriguing ways" that the consumers want more. Nobody's "wrong" here in the style of writing they like.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:20 pm UTC

wait so what you're trying to tell me is that one's taste in literature is a matter of taste

i was not ready for a truth of this magnitude before my third cup of coffee
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Weeks » Tue Sep 11, 2018 2:32 pm UTC

doogly wrote:wait so what you're trying to tell me is that one's taste in literature is a matter of taste

i was not ready for a truth of this magnitude before my third cup of coffee
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Sep 11, 2018 4:26 pm UTC

Ranbot, you should look into Sanderson's Laws of Magics, particularly the second.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Trebla » Tue Sep 11, 2018 7:25 pm UTC

doogly wrote:wait so what you're trying to tell me is that one's taste in literature is a matter of taste

i was not ready for a truth of this magnitude before my third cup of coffee


I'll ease you into it next time

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:18 pm UTC

doogly wrote:The Handmaid's Tale and Harry Potter are great examples of things I find profoundly uninteresting, yes.


Harry Potter is...potentially interesting as a setting. It uses a lot of iconic things fairly well. Unfortunately, it's got a lot of inconsistencies and well, it's ultimately a setting meant for a children's series. For that, it's pretty great. Better than most settings meant for children. However, the nature of that means you've got a few things that are going to seem a bit unrealistic to adults. For instance, all of the adults end up seeming a bit incompetent with regards to actually taking care of children. This is nigh-universal among kids/YA novels, though. Gotta justify why they gotta save everything, have stakes and all that. 's a necessary trade-off for the audience.

What settings do you find interesting?

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:23 pm UTC

Mostly it's not the setting that does it for me, but it's true that I've never read a book set in 19th century Russia that I didn't like.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Ranbot » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:31 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:Ranbot, you should look into Sanderson's Laws of Magics, particularly the second.

I read all the rules and agree completely. The "three" rules tend to overlap and ramble around some though. For being an author, I feel like he could have been more concise with some of the analysis. But I have no arguments the points made. Thanks for the link.

It's interesting to me Sanderson mentions Robert Jordon's Wheel of Time series, because it's a perfect example of what I hate in Fantasy. That series started well but quickly became an incoherent pile of magic on magic on magic. All problems had a magical answer that seemed to me to come completely out of thin air. Basically, Jordan's world structure was too loose to hold my interest, or maintain my Willing Suspension of Disbelief. I suspect Sanderson would agree, but he is careful not to criticize any of his peers.

I found this story from Sanderson's "First Rule" interesting too:

...[at] Worldcon...It was my very first panel...[I] was the first to speak when the moderator asked “All right, let’s begin with the simple question. How should magic work?”

I said something I took as a GIVEN... I said. “Obviously magic has to have rules.”

And every other person on the panel disagreed with me violently. “If you have lots of rules and boundaries for your magic,” they explained, “then you lose your sense of wonder! Fantasy is all about wonder! You can’t restrict yourself, or your imagination, by making your magic have rules!”

I was dumbfounded.


^^ THAT is why Sci Fi and Fantasy has a bad reputation. Too many authors and film-makers have a misguided idea that applying any self-restraint to their glorious imagination is bad. Sci Fi and Fantasy without firm structure and rules can easily devolve into a something akin to reading or watching the author/film-maker's fever dream. One can go too far the other way too though with detailed worlds that are not at all enjoyable to the audience. I couldn't get through Red Mars because many parts of it were like reading a technical manual of hypothetical Mars-based technology. Tolkien's Middle Earth books, apart from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, are like reading text books of fake history. It takes a lot of creativity to invent a new world that is coherent, believable, and still enjoyable for the audience.

doogly wrote:Mostly it's not the setting that does it for me...

So what does? Apart from the niche of 19th century Russia...

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby doogly » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:48 pm UTC

Magic needs rules if you are making a DnD sourcebook. For other purposes, this is much less important.

Ranbot wrote:
doogly wrote:Mostly it's not the setting that does it for me...
So what does? Apart from the niche of 19th century Russia...

Psychological insight, emotional evocation.
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Sep 11, 2018 9:05 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Mostly it's not the setting that does it for me, but it's true that I've never read a book set in 19th century Russia that I didn't like.


Everyone's got favorites/dislikes. There are exceptions, but I usually don't enjoy fantasy books. Too many of them are various shades of Tolkien ripoffs, or lean really heavily on other standard tropes.

I do concur that I hate when world building boils down to "because magic". A common issue with fantasy...magic's behind everything, but not in a way that's consistent enough to evoke interesting questions. Wheel of Time was wholly unreadable for me. In addition to consistency, you need that consistency to serve a purpose. Math is consistent, but books that rely on dumping tons of math at you to justify every plot point rarely work. Technobabble isn't better, though. ASOIF was more interesting fantasy in some respects. The world details felt like they mattered more, at least at first. Martin's kinda gone off the rails in some areas, and ultimately the series is actually getting less interesting as it becomes more predictable, but at least early on, there was a feeling of the world being coherent, yet not merely an existing stereotype.

There's a lot to be said for the more character-driven approach you prefer, though. World development without rich, interesting characters rarely works. Banks is the only one that really comes to mind.

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Ranbot
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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Ranbot » Tue Sep 11, 2018 9:44 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Psychological insight, emotional evocation.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a critically acclaimed and cult-classic film, gives you that uniquely presented through the science-fictional twist to the setting.

Kurt Vonnegut has many stories which incorporate science fiction to expose psychology and emotions in unique ways.

Many would say The Handmaid's Tale offers psychological insights too, but you've already declared that uninteresting.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Trebla » Wed Sep 12, 2018 1:23 pm UTC

Ranbot wrote:
I said something I took as a GIVEN... I said. “Obviously magic has to have rules.”


(snip for conciseness)

Too many authors and film-makers have a misguided idea that applying any self-restraint to their glorious imagination is bad. Sci Fi and Fantasy without firm structure and rules can easily devolve into a something akin to reading or watching the author/film-maker's fever dream.


This is probably why I still find Asimov (robot novels, at least) to be the most interesting sci-fi. There's a hard and fast set of rules, and the conflict almost always arises from interpretation of those rules. He was before my time so I don't know how the empire/robot universe evolved as books came out, (and I read them out of order anyway) but looking back on it, it seems like the universe grew around the concept of the three rules rather than the rules being introduced into his universe.

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Re: Could Truth be Beauty?

Postby Ranbot » Thu Sep 13, 2018 2:17 pm UTC

Trebla wrote:This is probably why I still find Asimov (robot novels, at least) to be the most interesting sci-fi. There's a hard and fast set of rules, and the conflict almost always arises from interpretation of those rules.

Agreed 100%. Sanderson's rules of magic mentions Asimov's I Robot series too (in case you didn't read the link jewish_scientist posted above).


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