Simulation, And the Creation of a “Human World”

In 1964, the literary critic Northrop Frye published a short book, titled The Educated Imagination, in which he tried to summarize his ideas on the relevance of literature to life. In it, he asserted that we all find ourselves confronting a world of nature, which is oblivious to our values and desires. It is a world that is inhuman in shape, manifesting no larger intelligence or morality that we can discern.

Our response to this experience, Frye said, is to turn nature into a “human world” that looks more like home. Although he expresses it somewhat differently, it is obvious from the text that he believed we create this “human world” a number of ways. One way we do so is by reconstructing our physical environment, replacing it with something of our own design. We build roads, farms, cities, and so on. Another way we do so is by producing literature, which allows us to explore alternative models of human experience. Here, instead of re-creating physical reality in our own image, we invent fictional versions of reality that let us see a vision of the world as we can imagine it and as we want it to be.

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