If we take on the idea of mimesis as world-creating alongside its meaning as world-reflecting, our idea of what we do as readers and audience members can change. In this case, we don’t just respond to fiction (as might be implied by the idea of reader response), or receive it (as might be implied by reception studies), or appreciate it (as in art appreciation), or seek its correct interpretation (as seems sometimes to be suggested by the New Critics). We create our own version of the piece of fiction, our own dreams, our own enactment. We run a simulation on our own minds. As partners with the writer, we create a version based on our own experience of how the world appears on the surface and of how we might understand its deeper properties.
– Keith Oatley, Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction (2011), p. 18
See, this is what happens when you get too caught up in one particular psychological construct.
When I look around me, I’m looking at a 3-D simulation of the room generated by my brain. But it’s still a simulation of the room itself. That’s what the brain’s simulation-making perceptual apparatus is for: to generate a reliably accurate visual representation of what’s out there in the world.
When I try to understand someone else’s motivations in a particular circumstance, I might run a simulation of the other person so as to understand how I might respond if I were in his shoes, how I might feel, what I might think, what I might have in mind to do next, and so on. But my simulation of the other person is not the same as that person, nor do I become the other person by running a simulation of him. The simulation is a tool to help me understand the other person.
When I read a novel I run simulations. I can create a mental and emotional simulation of the fictional world in which the fictional characters are acting. But my simulation of that fictional world isn’t the same thing as the world as depicted in the novel; it’s a tool to help me understand that fictional world. In simulating the characters in the story, walking in their fictional shoes, I do it not in order to become the characters, but to understand them.
We create our own version of the piece of fiction… as partners with the writer
Don’t flatter yourself. If you read fiction, then be satisfied with understanding, responding, receiving, interpreting, and simulating it. If you want to create fiction, then write something.