- We cannot be certain of anything about the universe
We cannot prove it even exists. We may be brains in jars, fed with false inputs, or we may be simulations on a computer. It may even be a vast solipsistic fantasy on the part of the writer (in which case, I am trying my best) or the reader (in which case, you need to try harder). The unrealist writer is certain of nothing.
- Even the laws of physics are probabilistic
On the sub-atomic level, certainty is a joke. Certainty about the position of an electron destroys knowledge about its velocity, and vice versa. Sub-atomic events have a probability that they will occur that does not have a value until it is measured. On the everyday level, the laws of physics are inductive; they are only reckoned to hold as they appear to have held in the past. But this may only measure the unlikeliness of their failing, not their permanence. A bag containing a million black marbles and one white marble will appear to contain only black marbles – until the wrong colour marble is removed. It is even possible that quantum tunnelling may change all the laws of physics instantly and without warning, making life and the physical universe as we know it impossible. The fact that it has not happened in the history of the universe makes it appear unlikely, but the possibility remains.
- Human affairs are chaotic
Even if we believe we understand these laws, we cannot always make predictions from them. Weather systems are unpredictable because we cannot measure the starting conditions accurately enough to work out the results of the process, even if the process itself is deterministic. This also seems to apply to economics, politics, and in fact any area in which human activity plays a part. Despite the prevalence of experts and pundits on news and current affairs programmes, studies have shown that their predictions are no better than chance.
- Certainty arises only where it is impossible
It is exactly in the unpredictable areas of politics and economics where our beliefs become their most passionate, their most immutable, and their most unproveable. And in the religious spheres, where ideas are more or less designed to be unverifiable, certainty becomes absolute. No one ever got killed over Euler’s Identity, , which seems a safe bet given its starting axioms. Religion and politics have led to our bloodiest wars.
- Uncertainty does not mean a lack of knowledge
If I jump off a cliff, I may fly. However I am not going to try it because everything I know about the world suggests otherwise. This is a probabilistic argument, but that is the nature of knowledge. The universe may not exist and may stop doing so without giving notice, but in the meantime we can form our knowledge by looking at what seems to work, and counting things as more or less likely. We can never know for certain; in fact, we are probably wrong about everything. We must be prepared to challenge our most treasured beliefs, and change them quickly in the face of further evidence. Of course, we never are.
- The purpose of art is to confuse people out of certainty
Certainty is a parasite on human thinking. Art is the weapon of the unrealist against the parasite. The unrealist wields this weapon against belief, chipping it away and forcing the audience away from the well-worn tracks of their usual thoughts, forging new pathways in human thinking. The content of the belief is irrelevant; it is the believing which is false. The unrealist is the friend of doubt.
- Only unrealistic fiction can achieve this
Realistic fiction tends to reinforce particular worldviews. The reader may disagree with them, but will recognise the viewpoint as one to be accepted or rejected. They may be disturbed by having to follow, say, a political opinion with which they do not agree, but they can return to their own beliefs at the end of the work, with their minds safely unchanged.
Audiences must be tricked into thinking along different lines. This can only be done surreptitiously, through metaphor, imagery, ambiguity, and artworks that give rise to multiple readings. It is not enough to write an allegory which can be easily translated to show the writer’s true meaning. The reader will easily identify this meaning, and accept or reject it in line with their certainties. Rather, the reader must be forced to think differently, without realising that their thoughts are at odds with the world. The familiar must be made to appear strange, so that the reader has unfamiliar thoughts about it.
Writing must therefore describe a different world than the one we live in. It does not matter if writers consider themselves to write science fiction, fantasy, “magical realism”, surrealism or any other genre that may or may not have been named. All that is necessary is that they do not give the reader the easy journey through their own beliefs that they receive from a newspaper.
Of course, no reader would willingly approach an artwork which they knew might erode their treasured beliefs. The writer’s task must be carried out in secret.
- The unrealist’s prime target is themselves
The unrealist clearly recognises pomposity and false certainty in their own self, and creates art in order to provoke their own thought processes into taking new paths. If an audience becomes caught in their self-directed crossfire, this is merely a bonus. In particular, the unrealist heartily avows that The Nine Principles of Unrealism is as ridiculous a text as anything else, and as riddled with the same impossible certainties. This fact, coupled with the need for secrecy, brings us to the final, and most important, principle of unrealism:
- No unrealist must ever publicly accept this manifesto
I hereby reject it in its entirety.
Neil James Hudson, December 2018