Before you read this Big Idea entry by Will Ludwigsen, about his story collection In Search Of and Others, I just want to say that I, too, loved the In Search Of television series to an insensible degree. And in honor of my and Will’s love of the show, here’s the opening theme.
Yes, that should set the scene for today’s Big Idea piece quite nicely.
When I was a kid, a television show called In Search Of hopelessly addicted me to weird epiphany. Hosted by Leonard Nimoy in the late 70s and early 80s, it examined the intractible mysteries of existence like ESP, the Loch Ness Monster, and UFOs. It often “solved” them too, usually with a big pseudo-scientific middle finger to Occam’s Razor.
Why believe that Amelia Earhart crashed and died off Gardner Island when you could imagine she was captured and turned by the Japanese into Tokyo Rose? Why think that settlers built the rock formations at Mystery Hill in New Hampshire when, hey, the Phoenicians might have?
That show (and the crackpot books I also read at that age) seriously warped my scientific education.
For one thing, I felt like an insider privy to arcane knowledge. Pissed as my father was that I couldn’t tell the difference between metric and imperial socket wrenches by touch, I still knew that there were pictures of ancient astronauts on the walls of Incan tombs and that seemed far more important. I figured that if everybody agreed about something, what was the point in knowing it?
For another, my endorphin rush upon learning new things became miscalibrated to the flamboyantly weird and surprising. There are ten times more microbial cells on and in our bodies than human ones? Meh, whatever. But there’s a PLESIOSAUR IN LOCH NESS? OMG!
I outgrew that, more or less, and these days I’m hopelessly skeptical. I’m probably just as mistaken about the world as I was then, but now it’s within the dull and conservative borders of “plausibility”– a confusion between cause and correlation, maybe, or a misjudgment between representative data and anecdote. That hulking shadow on the side of the road is either a bear or a cow, but it almost certainly isn’t Bigfoot.
Yet sometimes I miss being creatively, unabashedly, whole-heartedly, all-in WRONG about the universe in a way that seems most common to kids and lunatics.
Being wrong in that way was comfortably personal. When I was wrong about UFOs, it was because I wanted one to take me away. When I was wrong about ghosts, it was because I wanted to talk to someone with the cosmic perspective to tell me things would be all right. When I was wrong about the Kennedy assassination, it was because I didn’t want a squirrely little jackass to control the course of history.
Being wrong is really just a form of wish-making, isn’t it? You’re fitting what you want of the world onto whatever evidence you have. You’re making your own mythology, which might well have certain virtues over the received ones we take for granted.
Is it possible to cling too long to our wrongness? Certainly. Is it dangerous? Of course. Has being wrong caused millenia of human misery? Alas, yes.
But there’s a good way to be wrong, a way without the arrogance or petulance or zeal. Being wondrously and responsibly wrong means taking a moment to enjoy it, revel in it, and ask ourselves just why we want the world to be that way.
I was drawn to the genres I choose to write and read, science fiction and fantasy and horror, because they seem to be the literature of epiphany. They’re often about people who discover that their convictions about reality are more about them than the universe. I call these moments of “personal singularity,” realizations that change one’s perspective so completely that everything before seems primitive and alien.
I didn’t set out to write a collection of stories about personal singularities, but somehow In Search Of and Others seems to be one anyway. It has ghosts and abandoned houses and homicidal children and botched science fair experiments, and the thing those characters seem to learn over and over again is that you should be careful what you’re wrong about.
Why? Because you never know quite how right your wrongness might be.