Agnostics tend to be fascinated by neuroscience.
The mechanics of the brain to produce Religious Experience and the commonality of experience from limbic shock (aka Near Death Experience) helps to explain why so many rational people have what, at first sight, appears to be a supernatural episode.
And then we learn how belief systems evolve and become self sustaining in the human mind, it becomes easier to understand why rational people hang on to a belief despite all the evidence that it cannot be right. No scientific proof can ever withstand the theists rebuttal of "God Did It!"
A whole set of interesting topics arise when we look at how what is clearly fictional taps into the belief system, both as a writer and as a reader.
Space restrictions means that I shall have to write several articles on this topic - and today I want to present you with a simple overview of how J.K Rowling writes her works of fiction. She is currently flooded with requests for new interviews, so I have culled some quotes from ones she previously gave, to illustrate the process she goes through.
Where did the initial idea for the Harry Potter series come from? (To Oprah Winfrey) "I was on a train, I was twenty-five, and it came. And what came was ‘boy who doesn’t know he’s a wizard goes to wizarding school’. Bang. Bang. Bang. And then that was it. And that was like touch paper. And I was on this delayed train going from Manchester to London and my head was just flooding with what’s at this wizard’s school."
How did so much detail get filled out? (Again, to Oprah) "My head was just flooding with what’s at this wizard’s school. There were four houses, there were ghosts, there were house ghosts. What do they teach? What subjects do they learn? Who are the teachers?"
Were the books written to fill a specific plot line? (To El Pais) "I always knew what was going to happen. From the start I had the whole plot outlined, without the detail but I always knew that the story was going to finish."
How were the characters created? (to WBUR radio) "I mean none of the characters in the books are directly taken from life, but real people did inspire a few of them, but of course, once they are on the page they become something completely different. Yeah, Hermione is a caricature of what I was when I was 11, a real exaggeration."
Are the locations based on real life? (to John Stewart ) "The town in "Casual Visitor" is not based on a real place, but is the kind of place I knew well."
How real are the places created in Harry Potter? (to the BBC) "I know that world so well that moving in and out of it is like walking through my own front door."
And by way of illustration of the power than an author holds over their characters: "I decided that magic can't bring dead people back to life,"
So, for Jo - the initial inspiration that seemed to come from nowhere led to five years of crossing t's and dotting i's: but all within the constraints of a plot that was clear to her from the start. In order to fulfill the unwritten "willing suspension of disbelief" contract with her audience, everything in the books had to be logically consistent in itself, even if not logical in the real world.