Real, or Memorex?

I’ve always figured that the many-worlds interpretation was neat, maybe even gives some other theories a get-out-of-limbo-free card, but pretty much useless. Not because we’ll likely never prove or disprove it—that’s always a weak reason for dismissing a possibility—but because it makes all human action meaningless: if each branch-point goes both ways and I’m functionally making both decisions at once, just capillary’ing on into the horizon, then no decision I can make in the moment matters. Well, I resist it for that reason AND because it just seems an inefficient way for the universe or reality to be organizing itself—it kind of presupposes endless ‘space’ to branch out into, yes?

Anyway, I’m not here to convince anybody one way or the other. I’m just trying to edge my way into another discussion that keeps surfacing every little bit, lately: “Is Our World a Simulation?” Matrix kind of stuff. It’s neat to consider, taken like that—just asking, pretty much, are we all Moriarty on the holodeck? My knee-jerk response to this possibility has always just been that when a shadow kicks a shadow, it still hurts. So, whether we’re lines of spaghetti code on an alien terminal or not, this world feels real and I choose to invest in its reality, and thus generate meaning, so it doesn’t really matter, finally.

However, I recently burned through NPCs, and had already read Off to Be the Wizard and, I don’t know, Ready Player One and on and on, and the question “Is our world a simulation?”, with those (and more) texts in mind, kind of narrows down to:

  • Are we a simulation that’s just running and running?
  • Are we in a videogame of some sort?

Which, to rephrase, that’s—assuming we are a simulation—are we a science experiment or are we here for entertainment?

My take is that if it’s A) science experiment, then it doesn’t matter if we’re a simulation, because when a shadow kicks a shadow it still hurts, all that. However, if we’re B) living in some Under the Dome alien kid’s console, then that does change everything. Psychotic breaks, say: now that’s just a friend grabbing the controller, going wild while the other kid’s getting cookies. Paranormal phenomena: that’s that kid blowing on our cartridge’s head, to clean it. And? If this game-playing kid has some sort of access to the code, or can tinker with the game which is our reality, then we’re kind of just six characters in search of . . . an author? a god? a way out? a way back in? I mean, really, if we are in a videogame, then ignorance is by far our best option. Let the prophets and the seers and the mushroom-trippers glimpse the nature of true reality—seeing the pink laser doesn’t change anything, only makes us aware of our own insignificance in the shadow of Cthulhu. And it’s always better to at least feel like we matter.

Too, I sometimes hear that maybe we’re a simulation being run by our own future selves [I guess I’ve done a story about this], as a way to study the past. A little timeline navel-gazing. Or maybe this is what counts as paleoanthropology, twenty thousand years down the road. I don’t know. I mean, I can’t know, I don’t want to know, but also: I don’t know about this. Is it some version of that line of thinking where UFOs are just our own time-traveling Kris Kistofferson future selves? That’s not flawed thinking, near as I can tell, and it’s efficient in the sense that it doesn’t presuppose aliens, and it’s hopeful in the sense that it posits us into the great unknown future. Still, who we are, twenty thousand years down the road? I think those eloi-types are basically indistinguishable from aliens.

Anyway, the only advantage I see to figuring out we live in a Matrix, it’s that maybe you can fly, and pay off your credit cards, all that fun stuff. Maybe the people who can do impossible things—Kyree Irving, say—have an instinct for tapping into that, even if they live on a flat earth.

And of course there’s always the Jacob’s Ladder option, which I know is kind of a narcissistic worldview, but, as Descartes says: how to ever finally know for sure? Maybe this whole world is a fever dream my ‘real’ self is having in an instant. Maybe I am a butterfly. Maybe this whole reality is one atom under a fingernail, or maybe the sky is blue because we live in the eye of a blue-eyed giant.

So, where I finally land, I think, in spite of how fun it is to consider branes and alternate dimensions and holodecks, is on this being the real and only world. Not because it makes the most sense—I don’t think we’re under any compulsion to be sensible—but because it makes this world matter the most. Being human, near as I can tell, it’s about extracting and applying meaning to your life. That effort is a lot easier if there’s only one of me, and if I’m real. However, what I’ve never been able to start to explain, at least not without calling out to some recurrent cycle of life/reincarnation, is why some people are born in some ‘safe’ affluent space or time, while others are dropped into the harshest circumstances. Which is different from why bad things happen to good people. I can write that off to randomness, arbitrariness, whatever other -ness I need. But there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason for where and when we’re born, which, really, does make me feel observed, like I’m in an aquarium, like I’m being tested. Like we all are. Again, it’s narcissistic to think what I do is that interesting. But that doesn’t change the way it feels. Could be there is some intelligence out there logging us all down, some program making the ground solid right before my foot steps onto it. Or it could be that this is a ride I paid twenty dollars for at a carnival booth—I’m remembering this all wholesale. It feels real, anyway. And I can’t cut to the hoop like Kyree yet either.

I don’t know. File under: Things I’m Always Still Thinking About (which file is actually maybe “Things I Just Think I’m Always Still Thinking About”).

Author: SGJ