09 December, 2010

Research conclusions in novels

Science presents arguments that coherently lead to a conclusion.These arguments follow a (well, more or less) logical chain of reasoning. Many see this as the best way to share knowledge of the world's workings. Might or might not be, but for sure it is not the only way.

Think about novels. A novel is the result of a writing process. To achieve this, the writer might have travelled, talked to people, read stuff, or whatever he has thought appropriate to develop an understanding of the subject. We can call this background research. This research develops the writer's understanding of the subject matter, until at some point he knows it well enough to formulate the central finding of research in his mind. This we can reaching a conclusion.

In that sense, novelists and researchers are not that far apart: both study phenomena and make findings about them. Apart from the obvious methodical differences, the aim and presentation involve differences, too. Scientists always look for causal relations and are trying to answer the question "why?". A scientist could say that he has discovered how rainbows work and then present evidence on the refraction of light.

A novelist, on the other hand, isn't very often answering "why?" but more so "what?". He's focusing on the phenomenon itself, without necessarily trying to explain it. His conclusion is the existence of the phenomenon itself. As for presentation, a novelist does not necessarily present his conclusion in a very concise form. That is for the reader to find out. It is a sort of intelligence challenge, where the reader is invited to try to find out the conclusion with the help of some clues and thematic guidance.

Clearly this analysis of novels does not fit all types, but for me it's sometimes been helpful to ask myself "what's the conclusion here?". Books invite us notice something with the help of intuition and emotion. Moreover, we have a habit of seeing the world as interplay of narratives. We have a certain built-in story detector. Then, intuitive conclusions may stick better, because they play on our sense of stories and it may feel like you discovered the conclusion with your intuition. And in a lot of cases, the stickiness is definitely not a bad thing.

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