Suspended disbelief is a term that originated in 1817 by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The term suspended disbelief, in the Arts as an area of knowledge, means that as long as a work such as a play, film, or piece of literature is able to bring a sense of truth for whatever universe its set in into the plot then the audience/readers will be willing to accept whatever is happening within the work as something natural. The viewer/reader is able to put aside or suspend what they would normally dismiss as fake which leads them to the term suspended disbelief. One of my favorite classes is English Literature for I am able to step into alternate worlds such as Blanche´s world in “A streetcar named Desire” and Hamlet in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Hence, suspension of disbelief is an essential feature of theater in relevance to pieces of literature like Hamlet and Blanche, yet, it differs in the human sciences (human geography) as well as the natural sciences (mathematics). In the Arts as an area of knowledge, each different play/ book I worked on in English Literature class had a very different setting, set in alien places that would be thoroughly disbelieving if I were to encounter them with the creatures and characters in my everyday life. Indeed, were I to walk out my front door to find a streetcar named Desire parked next to the flower pots, I would be very alarmed and very disbelieving, and contemplating on who had slipped what drug into my glass of cold milk I have every morning.
When I decide to watch a movie, however, I enter because I want to absorb myself into that very strange world. In other words, I want to believe what I see on the screen. The willing suspension of disbelief became a sort of deal for me, as a member of the readers with the writers, poets and characters- in exchange for their providing me with a story that is amusing, or mysterious, or fantastical, or all of the previous. This suspension is temporary since I don’t have to spend my whole life believing that Black Beauty, Oliver Twist, Huckleberry Finn really did exist in reality. It’s important that I understand that they are not real, but rather I ‘suspend’ that knowledge for a short period of time. This is why people tend to get emotional when Ophelia seemingly commits suicide. They do know that she’s not real in life, but for a temporary period they have suspended their disbelief and accepting that she is real in the play. Hence, suspension of disbelief is an essential feature of theater.
As the first area of knowledge, in the Human Sciences (Human Geography), for example, someone I know has told me a while back that climate change is man-made. Was I to simply say “yes, you’ve made a statement clear enough for me to agree that climate change is man made” or was I to say “You’ve made worthy statement, but before I make my decision, I need to hear the other side of the argument”? Personally I think I´d do the latter. My existing view of the world would be the idea that climate change is man-made, however, there is always some confirmation bias.
The counterclaim here would state the fact that just because it would fit with my existing beliefs doesn’t necessarily make it true. So instead, I suspend my existing beliefs and listen to the other side of the argument. After having listened to both sides and weighed them equally, I then proceeded to my decision. This is the way debating Societies have worked for centuries: one (or two) person(s) puts a case, and another one (or two) puts the counter argument. People in the room listen to both sides evenly – suspending their existing beliefs – and then vote on which side put the best case. I disbelieve the argument that climate change is not man-made. I therefore suspended that disbelief and listened to both sides. The difference is that now I also know that I disagree with the other side of the argument and that makes my opinion much more substantial.
Therefore, I tend to feel more satisfied with it. Had I weighed the two arguments together and altered my mind, then I would never have done that without suspending my disbelief of their argument. Had I heard both sides and been unable to decide then I would have known that I needed to do more research. In conclusion; suspension of disbelief is not an essential feature in this real life example as I suspend that disbelief and listen to both sides. As the second area of knowledge, in the Natural Sciences for instance, in contrast I looked at AoK Mathematics as the opposite process. Mathematics requires actual proof before it becomes known, or categorised as knowledge. Hence, rather than a suspension of disbelief, it could be argued that disbelief is completely inherent to the methodology of knowledge construction. For instance, it took Russell & Whitehead 300 pages to prove that 1+1=2, the problem of Goldbach’s Conjecture and the process by which Andrew Wiley proved Fermat’s last theorem (notably, there were many steps on the way to final proof that mathematicians ‘knew’ without being able to prove, such as the Shimura-Taniyama conjecture).
As for the evaluation on my conclusion, on the balance it seems that suspension of disbelief is an essential feature of theater, yet, tends to differ in Human Sciences ( Human Geography) as an area of knowledge. As I have stated before, it is possible to suspend your existing beliefs and listen to both sides of the argument about whether climate change is man-made or not. In contrast to natural sciences as an area of knowledge (Mathematics); proof is required before being labeled as knowledge. Therefore, suspension of disbelief here seems inherent to the methodology of knowledge construction.