“You are losing the ability to focus on things closer to you”.

The optometrist’s diagnosis for my recurring headache sounded rather philosophical. As he prescribed reading glasses, he assured me that my eyesight is alright and this is all quite normal in the forties, and I needed to wear them only for reading.

A couple of days later, I realised I didn’t remove them except when at sleep. It struck me then, “reading” encapsulates plenty of things one does during the day: looking at numbers and texts on my PC when at work, catching a glimpse of the twitter feed on iPhone, reading books over the weekend. Even watching TV/movies involves a bit of reading (subtitles).

Its not just the insane amount of blue-light exposed to my eyes that was worrying. All the stuff I inhale into my mind each day. what’s going on ? And, whats going in? Beyond work, how do i control the intake of the non-essential content? I began applying some mental filters.

Fiction vs Non-Fiction

We could classify all the TV programs, movies, books, social media that we consume into these two buckets: fiction vs non-fiction. Imagined stuff vs reality. To be blunt, the false vs the truth.

Why do we love watching movies when we know most of them aren’t real? Motion pictures were a revolution in the last century, as disconnected and disadvantaged people were suddenly exposed to a world full of people they had never encountered, of stories never heard before, of places they may never visit. And the information flow that would have not occurred otherwise, though laced with myths, exaggerations and influences.

But in this age of information overflow, why do we flood our grey cells with fiction? Agreed, imagined stories are fun while most documentaries are boring. We seek drama, meaning, pleasure and escape from reality. Movies and novels deliver those.

There is another reason why acclaimed writers prefer fiction. Arundhati Roy, a Man Booker Prize winner and a fearless political activist, says she gets more creative liberty (and less trouble from the mob) as she indulges in fiction to tell a real story. In that sense, she claims fiction isn’t untruth. The reader is smart enough to relate to and reflect on the characters and derive their own meanings.

No wonder these imagined movies and novels leave us emotionally richer and mentally relaxed. Albert Einstein wanted us to remember, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, and sure enough, many sci-fi novels and movies paved the way for real scientific breakthroughs.

How about we dabble with a bit of reality? Alas, we are surrounded by the cacophony of news, political events, wedding announcements of celebrities, and cat videos. The irrelevant and ugly truth presented to us each day are the very reasons we run away to a fictitious, imagined world.

True Stories

However, it is important to run into the real world from time to time, not away from it. Its not a strain, believe me. There are heaps of true, inspiring stories in the form of documentaries, biographies, podcasts and news. You could start with any domain: sports, science, lives of ordinary, unknown people.

I indulge in watching test match cricket and tennis(especially when Federer plays). I love the commentary, particularly the way Ian Chappell brings better words to describe the same event I had witnessed. And the words and perspectives of the film critic Baradwaj Rangan are more entertaining than the movie itself.

A few years ago, i enjoyed watching the documentary, making of Lagaan (Oscar-nominated movie) as much as the movie itself, if not more. The reel drama about a bunch of villagers achieving the impossible bet of winning a cricket match against the British officials, is more than matched by the real life struggle of a passionate (and crazy) team attempting to make a movie in an unforgiving desert.

If you are intimidated by the term quantum mechanics or multiple universe, watch this fantastic animation story about the famous Young’s double-slit experiment about the nature of light. God, if such videos were available during our school-years. If you want a more entertaining science story, check this out: the story of how man walked from the jungles of Africa all the way across different parts of the world.

There is this uplifting story of an ordinary bloke, Barry “Nugget” Rees, who never played cricket as such but became accepted as part of the Australian cricketing fraternity, that makes you look at these cricketers in such a positive light (this was before the sand-paper scam).

Living in the age of fake news, we are permeated by maya(Sanskrit for illusion). The more we filter out the trivial stuff and focus on the what-if’s and aha-moments, the richer we become.

I came across this quote some time ago: Small minds discuss People; Average minds discuss Events; Great minds discuss Ideas.