The Concept of Virtual Living

Here at the tail end of this Humanities course I’m taking, I find myself quite surprised by how much I’ve gained from it. I took it mostly to make sure I had something to do before I could get into full-on University. Any skills I picked up along the way were a bonus. Huh. All of the things I just said could easily apply to this blog. Anyway, the latest thing in my studies that really caught my interest is a thought experiment called the experience machine.

If you haven’t heard of this thought experiment before, I’ll try to summarise as best I can. Imagine that there was a machine which could simulate any experience possible in life. You name it, it can be programmed into this machine, and anyone plugged into it will be completely unable to tell the difference between real world and the world the machine shows them. You have a choice: You can live out the rest of your life plugged into this machine, or forego it entirely. Should you choose to plug in, let’s say you get to come out once every two years to choose the experiences of the next couple of years. Also, when you’re plugged in, you won’t be able to remember that you’re just in a machine. It will be real to you. Would you do it?

Now, after some thought I know perfectly well what my personal answer would be, but the point I want to make is not about any correct or incorrect answer: it’s in the reasoning behind the dilemma. This question really hinges on how you define both human experience and reality itself. Is the end goal of our endeavours all about the feeling? If not, how much value would we place on things accomplished in virtual space? How would we feel about deciding the outcome of every situation beforehand? Would we care about the toll such a life would have on our ability to ever live normally again? Would it really matter, as long as this virtual world was so much better than the real world? What about the value of negative experiences? How would we cope, mentally? What about relationships?

The questions flow. You can probably tell where I lean on the matter, and you can also probably tell that exploring this kind of idea fascinates me to no end. Anyone who read my venomous tirade against Sword Art Online already knows how I feel about such an interesting concept being completely wasted. And… I’d love to write my own novel exploring such ideas. I’ve actually had something sitting around my notes for a while. I’ve just been either too busy or too lazy to write up anything more than background notes about the setting and characters. Goodness, though, if I can write over 50,000 words for this blog I can certainly cook something up. There are a couple of other thematically fitting things I’d like to study and represent more in depth; specifically, the reality of certain mental illnesses and traumatic effects. Amnesia, which has been exploited endlessly yet explored rarely in fiction. Split personality, which seems to have developed into a full-fledged supernatural trope. In those two alone, there is so much potential for a fascinating story.

Goodness gracious, even writing this is making me incredibly excited. I really have to start working on those notes more. Maybe I should… RIGHT NOW. A little. Dagnabbit, there’s still so much stuff I have to do before the weekend.



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