Interview Questions: The Writing of Fidelis Q4. Re: Truth, Narratives, and History

Book 2 hit 96,000 words last night and I expect to be at about 105,000 by the end of this week. After that I expect just another 40,000 or so. I think it is clear that I won’t be able to have the next book out until Christmas 2008. :(

Q4. Another major theme that creeps in the background is the role of truth, and how you have an average guy like Fides who could care less abut the ultimate truths and meta-narratives of history constantly having his conscience nagged by these demons, these demons of truth and history. This begins with his being given a Bible and develops with his relationship with Fermion, a mysterious traveler who seems to know a thing or two about truth. Can you speak a little to this overarching theme?

Gladly. From a big picture point of view I think we all tend to begin our investigation into truth against a backdrop of already assuming certain things are true. For example, we think that it is true that we even exist. We take it for granted. We take for granted that our senses don’t deceive us and that our brain accurately interprets the sense data and that our mind processes objective reality. Based on these assumptions we turn our attention to areas of inquiry such as religion, politics, philosophy, ethics, science, etc.

There is a serious flaw in this approach if we’re really trying to get to the whole bottom of things and that flaw is that our explanations for reality also have to explain the things I listed above. You can’t pick and choose what you want to explain. We find that we instinctively take much of what we think we know based on the authority of others. That is not necessarily an insult. Let’s face it, we only have our own narrow experience of reality and to fill out the broader picture we’ll need to hear about other people’s experience of reality- providing those people really exist too, of course. But taking assertions of fact about reality on authority exposes us to other people’s presumptions and things they take for granted, and of course they only have a narrow experience of reality, too.

So what is the average person to do? Provided he cares, that is, and Fides initially doesn’t care. But going against the grain of reality can start to hurt after a time, so eventually Fides has to address the issues. What can he do? The most important thing is not to prejudge things.

If we take an issue like the existence of God, it is easy to find atheists running around talking as though we were obliged to take a naturalistic view of things by default, and any assertion about the existence of God has to be backed up by extraordinary evidence, while any naturalistic explanation is preferable, even with no evidence in sight at all. Now, there is no way anyone can know such a thing without first knowing that there isn’t a God or that if there is one, he’s indifferent to us. You can’t prove this assumption, you can’t verify it, it is axiomatic. But if you’re starting over from scratch- that is, you’re beginning your investigation into reality with fresh eyes, then you know you can’t start with such axioms. Certainly if you have such an axiom it is hardly worth saying that you don’t believe in God and think the evidence for God to be weak. Of course you’d say that. Your axiom forces you to.

Now, the existence of God is certainly something that Fides is exploring but that is not the only thing he is exploring. For example, he is witness to realities such as honor, bravery, courage, beauty, love, and other intangibles. His account of reality has got to respect these things as realities requiring as much explanation as an apple falling to the ground. We explain an apple falling by invoking gravity. How do we explain gravity? See where that is going?

In this context, then, the importance of history in uncovering truth rather than relying on something like the scientific method alone, which is largely constrained to this present moment, is laid bare. For if you must rely on authorities to some extent and other people’s experiences of reality to inform your own experience of reality, then it is not enough merely to consult your contemporaries but also those who have come before you, as well. A contemporary might say something like “Miracles aren’t possible” but if credible voices in the past attest to seeing a miracle, you’re in a bind. You can’t know that miracles aren’t possible. But even if they’re possible it doesn’t mean they happened. And if they don’t happen to you, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to others.

Now, Fides finds out that these musings are important in other ways. For example, he experiences righteous indignation when witnessing the slaughter of largely defenseless travelers. If some other people want to kill some other people, what is that to him? Why is it all the more bitter when he sees that they are defenseless? Why should he care? But he does care.

This requires an explanation. Preferably a good one. Fidelis is largely a story of Fides constructing the best explanation for everything we experience, not just mechanical observations about the empirical universe, but also of loyalty in the face of imminent death and his own passions and longings.

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