The Imaginary

Why is it that we’re willing to spend hours reading; playing games; and watching television, movies, and plays? According to Paul Bloom, it’s because most of us spend the majority of our leisure time caught up in the imaginary, a fact which might arise from our lack of total separation of the real and the imaginary.

We enjoy imaginative experiences because at some level we don't distinguish them from real ones. This is a powerful idea, one that I think is basically—though not entirely—right. (Certain phenomena, including horror movies and masochistic daydreams, require a different type of explanation.)
The capacity for imaginative pleasure is universal, and it emerges early in development. […] In some cultures, play is encouraged; in others, children have to sneak off to do it. But it is always there. Failure to play and pretend is a sign of a neurological problem, one of the early symptoms of autism.

Bloom argues that fiction can act as augmented reality, “just as artificial sweeteners can be sweeter than suger,” though he qualifies this statement with the fact that we care just as much about the fascinating events of fiction when they happen in the real world, citing that millions of people tuned in to watch the O.J. Simpson trial.

Bloom doesn’t touch on the fact that engaging “real life” events l— the O.J. Simpson trial, the bombing of Pearl Harbor — are experienced at one remove. The mediation of a television or other devices offers us both real and imaginary stories. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that just as there is some part of us that experiences the imaginary as real, there may be some part of us that experiences remediated reality as imaginary.