Lethetic and Alethetic: two sides of Fantasy

Learned a new word today. Actually, two.

  • Lethetic: failing to mirror reality, therefore purely escapist or nonsensical.
  • Alethetic: non-lethetic, therefore mirroring reality, often indirectly (e.g., allegories).

These two terms are now very dear to me – this is because they map, in my opinion, two different types of Fantasy literature that I have encountered but didn’t have the right words to categorise (apart from crappy vs good – not very articulate, wouldn’t you agree).

Lethetic fantasy, for me, would be a shallow type of reading: maybe even well written and with a good story, but it’s unlikely it will stick in my mind, or warrant a re-read. The cycle of Landover from Terry Brooks would probably fit the bill, apart maybe from the first book, as well as quite a few bestsellers (that’s the sad part). Plus a huge amount of self- and traditionally- published books that don’t achieve any renown.

Alethetic fantasy would be a book that has something to say, that tries to uncover (through the mind of the author) an aspect of reality. We’d probably be better off reading an essay to get an academic sense of a political, sociological, anthropological aspect of humanity. But fiction reaches deeper within. Studying the Problem of Evil is all good, makes for a tedious (if intellectually challenging) effort. Reading a book that allegorically shows the different arguments within the Problem and their real-world consequences would hit much closer to the target – and it’s also, usually, much more memorable. It stimulates our emotional intelligence and only later our rationality – exactly the opposite of academic writing. A clear, well-known example of this type of fantasy is Tolkien’s LotR of course, but also LeGuin’s Earthsea and many, many others.

In this context, new fantasy readers would do well to focus their efforts on the second type – notwithstanding the need for a good story, or the read would only be boring (better an academic essay, at that point).

If you thing fantasy literature is shallow and childish, you probably have only read lethetic books. Please do some research and find something better in the alethetic category. It’s worth it.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (via Chemoton § Vitorino Ramos’ research notebook)


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Fig. – Christ having some problems on passing the right message. Comic strip from Zach Weiner (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal blog – ). Social psychologists, sociologists, and economists have all proposed theories of norm emergence. In general, they views norm emergence as depending on three factors: (i) actors’ preferences regarding their own behaviour (inclinations); (ii) actors’ preferences regarding the behaviour of others … Read More

via Chemoton § Vitorino Ramos’ research notebook

Why a Moral God is unlikely

Take it with a pinch of salt, I’m not a philosopher. Few ideas as well as confused, we jokingly say in Italy. Enjoy.

We are told by a lot of theologists that the concept of God has being strengthened in the last centuries, because the complexity of reality, step by step disclosed by the Science, seems to support the idea that the birth of this universe would have been impossible without a sort of “supernatural engineering”, made by a Very Intelligent Entity.

To play along with them, let’s assume such a God exists, as in the latest forms of Intelligent Design: God created a kind of experimental setup, made it implode, and since the Big Bang he’s been watching us for some reasons that we don’t know. Unfortunately for the strongest atheists of the world, this could be a possible scenario, from a theoretical point of view.

Here’s the rub! Do we really believe that we are God’s beloved? We could be some kind of God’s experiments, like these of the Artificial Life scientists that try to create little worlds, with autonomous agents controlled by a neural network and evolved with a genetic algorithm very similar to natural evolution! We could be some kind of art, for an higher dimensional world. We could be anything, but nothing seems to suggest that the extreme hugeness and complexity of the universe is made for us, for the good of us, and that he cares about how we live!

Think a bit about the soul. Some theologists are starting to agree with the brain-is-the-mind theory, suggesting that the soul can be “stored” in an higher (divine) dimension, and that we can see, in the brain, only the part that matters for our existence, like everything else. They can easily try to create a theoretical framework that include every scientific result without breaking their theology.

I don’t blame them for this, on the contrary I think it could be funny and challenging for our reasoning skills. But think for a bit about Moral God. An extremely intelligent entity (like scientists compared to simple simulated agents) did an hard work to set up an auto-assembling and auto-organizing universe, waiting for the creation of a living being similar (on a small scale) to him (because now we are very near to create complex artificial world, letting them auto-organizing to see the emergence of life and intelligence), only to see billions of billions of us living and almost dying, and then to do something like this:

  1. Saving, just before death, one’s genome and neurons activation states (and some other biological information, but only a bit more I suppose) to permit his regeneration in a kind of new afterdeath existence
  2. Analyzing the log of his life, judging if he was good or bad.
  3. Putting him forever into the right new world, one of pure pain and one of pure rapture
  4. Goto 1, infinite cycle

Well, why such an intelligent entity would have to waste so much time and memory of his “divine computer”? He could eliminate the universe and the natural death, simplify our bodies, put small fixed number groups of people, one after the other for a fixed time, into a simple world: he could let us interact, and then analyze our moral performance keeping for him the best ones (or using it like moulds for next trials).

It would be absolutely more efficient and less cruel, wouldn’t it?

that he cares about how we live!