I Only Read NON-Fiction
Fairly often someone makes this statement to me: “I only read NON-Fiction.” This is spoken condescendingly. Even with a sneer. The message seems to be people who read frivolous fiction just don’t possess the intelligence to read the lofty, superior, non-fiction. As an author, who writes mostly fiction, I’m left sputtering: “But what about literature? That’s fiction. Why do we humans award the Nobel Prize for great fiction? Never non-fiction. Why do we celebrate great novelists? What’s so great about fiction?"
Well. Fiction, and the ability to create and understand it, made civilization possible.
I am reading a mind-expanding book: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari informs us that at one time there were as many as six types of genuine humans living on Earth, at the same time. We’re so accustomed to being the only humans on the planet, this information comes as a bit of a shock. Neanderthals were humans. Homo Neanderthalensis. “Homo” is Latin for “human.” Some others were homo erectus, homo denisova, homo rudolfensis and of course, Homo Sapiens, us, to name a few. For thousands upon thousands of years all these varied homo’s lived exactly the same life: hunt small game, dig edible roots, pick berries and fruits, scavenge what was left of a say, a zebra killed by a lion, but only after all other scavengers had had their turn. (Thus the creation of tools meant specifically to crack open bones for their marrow. About all that was left of a kill by the time the homo’s got to it, were the bones.) Then about 70,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens took a giant step forward. After millennia of communicating with a simple language—all homo’s had simple languages, Sapiens suddenly understood “imagined reality” or, fiction. Hitherto, all a homo could communicate with was a maximum of 150 people. This was limiting. Wars aren’t very successfully carried out by such a small amount of people. Sapiens learned to establish the fiction, the imagined reality, of a country. A geographical area with imaginary borders that all the tribe members agreed upon with their collective ability to imagine and respect a fiction. A large number of Sapiens pictured this fiction and fought to defend it. They also created the fiction of religion: tales of prophets raising people from the dead, worshipping a god no one had ever seen, heard, or smelled, with an unproven fictive afterlife. Thus, millions could worship (imagine) the same god, the same creation myth, the same rules for good behaviour, and believe all this so fervently that a country would go to war to defend these imaginary beliefs. Thus the concept of “faith” came into being. Sapiens, of course, met up with Neanderthals, homo denisova, and other homo’s. They interbred with them to a certain extent, but their superior foraging skills led them to deplete an area of edibles so the other humans, slower off the mark, were starved out. Because their communication skills had advanced beyond the former limit of 150 individuals, Homo Sapiens was now able to hunt big game in big numbers. A large group could round up and chase an entire herd of bison over a cliff, then sift amongst them at the base of the cliff, harvesting enough food and hides to sustain them for long periods. Neanderthals and the other homo’s could still only communicate with 150 individuals. They did not have the brain development to imagine communicating with more—even though Neanderthals had larger brains than ourselves.
Meanwhile, modern Sapiens have cracked the genetic code. A four-year study which ended in 2010, put all other theories to rest. Modern Sapiens, us, carry as much as 4+ percent of Neanderthal DNA. Likewise, denisova, whose DNA is found in Asian populations. Neanderthals live on! So the next time a modern Sapiens sneers at you for loving fiction just reassure yourself: they’re operating from their Neanderthal brain. Hail, fiction. It made civilization possible. And isn’t it lovely to know that big, sweet, fire-making, tool creating, Neanderthals live on, in us.