In the 1836 story “The Nose”, by Nikolai Gogol (translated by Claud Field) we read of Kovalyov, a civil servant, waking up “fairly early” one morning, gazing at a mirror “to look at the heat-boil which had appeared on his nose the previous evening” — and “to his great astonishment” seeing “that instead of his nose he had a perfectly smooth vacancy in his face.”
“Thoroughly alarmed, he ordered some water to be brought, and rubbed his eyes with a towel. Sure enough, he had no longer a nose! Then he sprang out of bed, and shook himself violently ! No, no nose any more ! He dressed himself and went at once to the police superintendent.”
Apart from the entertainment, what does fiction, like Gogol’s do?
In a December 2008 essay titled “Changing our Minds”, Keith Oatley, Emeritus Professor at the University of Toronto writes that “Fiction is about possible selves in possible worlds.”
He goes on: “In terms of 21st-century psychology, we might best see fiction as a kind of simulation: one that runs not on computers, but on minds.”
Reading fiction, Keith tells us, “measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”
In “The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction“,Neil Gaiman tells us that reading fiction is a way “to build empathy.”
He writes that “Fiction,” being “the lie that tells the truth” “gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”