Researchers at Ohio State University examined what happened to people who, while reading a fictional story, found themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own - a phenomenon the researchers call “experience-taking.”
Books or sex
You remember the first time you lost yourself in a great book. The characters, action, and setting put you in another place that the researchers above call "experience-taking."
Many contend that they know some fictional characters from books better than any real person. You can't enter the mind of even someone you've known forever. In fiction you can.
My first experience-taking happened with Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, where I was so taken in that I even dreamt the story at night. I could feel the relationships and emotions in the novel.
While my focus here is not strictly on sex, but on power in reading, sex is a potent diversion. Other research points specifically to erotic novels, their popularity with women, and the effects on them.
The science behind the sex
In "Erotic novels arouse vicarious sexual experiences," the author points out that it is through empathy that we experience what the characters do in some cases:
thecognitive effects of what the author pejoratively terms "smut," erotic novels like E L James Fifty Shades of Grey. [It further states] that sexual experiences in erotic novels simulate, through empathy, the same brain areas in the reader that are triggered with real sex. Scientists are actually able to measure brain activity through fMRI and other techniques. Studies also demonstrate that women experience this effect more intensely than men.
I believe the answer must be that it is POSSIBLE that fictional sex for some is better than the real thing. The older I get, the closer I come to understand this.
The truth about reading
The experience-taking is what makes fiction so powerful and pleasurable, and now I am not referring just to sex. I good book takes us to a different life, appealing for many reason. Moving away from erotica, reading is a unique learning and expanding experience because great books can:
Thoreau noticed the power of reading to move him to action:
A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
And just think of all the revolutionaries Thoreau has inspired to act like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and others. Think of the power for good contained in his "On Civil Disobedience," which gave birth to the idea of passive resistance.
I have been motivated to focus on reading this week for this reason: books have the power to change and motivate action as Thoreau says.
Most importantly, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery as a piece of property and taught himself how to read. He later said:
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
I end on a more profound note than I began. Douglass realized that there was another world through reading, and in this other place both Black and White were free. Once he learned this, he could never be content being bound. He later escaped and became an important leader in the fight for the freedom of his people.
Read because it makes you free. Or, read because it gets you off. It's through the empowering characteristics of reading that we access the best life has to offer human beings.
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Let us know what your reasons for reading are. Why do you bother?