I was thinking about a story idea, but it seems too daunting to attempt. Call it a mind experiment tethered to solipsism. The conceptual framework is this:
The premise is that ‘reality’ is generated in real-time—except there is no time; there is no space. All of this is constructed. Think of the sort of dream you may have experienced where physics-defying events occur. These dreams don’t care about the continuity of time or space. You can instantly be here and then there irrespective or where here and there are. One may even be in both places at once or nowhere at all. One can transform from one state to another or even be stateless. One doesn’t require an ego or a sense of I; rather, the I may shift without effort or it might dissolve. We are not encumbered by bodies. Vonnegut’s short story Unready to Wear—that for some reason indexed in my recollection as Pas prêts à porter.
In this world, perception is loaded into memory. But unlike a typical video game, the rest of the world is not a telos. It’s rather procedurally generated. In fact, even this is a poor analogy because the generation could be some stochastic process with no need to connect event 0 to event 1.
Empirically, events rely on preceding events. This is the world of cause and effect—a snooker ball collides with another and causes it to fall into a pocket; a stock price rises or falls, but these are not random events as they are inexorably linked to the past. As no one expects an unperturbed ball to jump into a pocket any sooner than one would expect a stock price to be truly random–to jump from 100 to 2 to 999 to 42. But with dreaming, all of this is possible.
Returning to the video game metaphor, what you see in the moment is all that is real. If you look in a particular direction, a table with a lamp and book on it might appear to be situated next to a chair; that registers as reality. But if you look away and then back, none of this needs to remain there. There needn’t be a table or a chair. Or there could be, but they don’t have to be the same table and chair; and there needn’t be a book.
In this reality, the mind—label it as you will—continually reconstructs whatever it wants to, simultaneously—apologies for the temporal terminology, but communication is restricted to the convention of shared meaning—and whatever it generates arrives with a plausible backstory. Given this, any history or relationships are always part of this fiction. Cognitive devices would be active to ensure this backstory appears to have continuity with our sense of the past; rather, it generates this plausible past. This past only has to be plausible in the moment—enough to hold the illusion together.
Consider a nebulous dream. These dreams don’t need to conform to conventions of time and space. But when we occasion to convey these dreams to a journal, a mate, or a therapist, we are forced to fit into a conventional spatiotemporal structure–first, this happened and I was here, and then that happened and I was there. But this was not the reality of the dream. This is subjectively experiential and so cannot be conveyed. In these dreams, there are no rules, but we apply structure that wasn’t really there in the first place; but we interpret time and space linearly and contiguously—even where no such structure exists. I think it would tedious to write and difficult to follow….. Perhaps better suited for an AI author.
To put a finer point on it, I’ll leave with a snippet. Let’s begin with the chair next to a table with a lamp and a book set upon it. You are a nuclear scientist on your way to a job interview at 3:30pm because why not?
A scheduled alarm awakens you. A clock on a bedside table reads 8 a.m. Your focus is on an interview this afternoon at 3:30, so you don the suit you’d set out the night before.
In the kitchen, you decline your partner’s offer of the soup he’s heated for lunch. He routinely eats soup for lunch on Thursdays.
The engine is still making a ticking sound, but you are distracted by the woman fussing with her makeup on the commuter train.
You’ve always preferred to take notes by hand with a fountain pen, having found the mass of the implement to add weight to your ideas.
Your wife, sipping café au lait on the sofa, smiles adoringly at you as you walk through the living room. She’s wearing that azure sweater she bought in Anchorage—or was it Chicago? The telephone rings.
“The captain has asked all passengers to fasten their seatbelts and prepare for a landing. We’ll be arriving at London Heathrow in about 20 minutes.” You close your laptop and acknowledge the flight attendant as she walks past.
You hang up the phone and tell your girlfriend it was a wrong number. You’re not sure that she believes you, but the barking dog distracts you. You don’t prefer to take lunch in public parks. You prefer the beach.
You pay for the trousers and accept the recommendation to purchase a leather belt. You’ve got to get back to your office. There’s not usually traffic at this hour. That’s why you left before 11.
Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of your husband. What’s he doing in Sydney? You tell yourself that you must be mistaken and eat the last morsel on your plate, the waiter hovering with the check.
Ten more minutes you tell yourself as you glance at the clock on the wall. Don’t go off you plead with the alarm clock, but the cat walking across the bed tells you that this ten minutes will not be used catching up on sleep.
“Four. Seven minus three is four,” you offer.
“Very good. And what is seven plus three?”
This is your favourite part of Phantom, but you wonder what became of your date. On one hand, he seemed like a nice guy.
“There are only eleven. It says a dozen.”
You continue to read the same paragraph over and again but it doesn’t seem to make sense.
Why is that guy looking at you? He must know that you know that he’s staring.
You are trying to find the heat of the stage light so you can get into the shot. “Line?” you ask.
You lock the door of your hotel room behind you as imagine crashing on the bed in front of you, but you’ve just noticed that you’d forgotten your luggage.
As I just took a stream of consciousness approach save for actively quashing any semblance of contiguity. To be honest, I seriously considered entering snippets into a spreadsheet and then randomising the concepts. Another thought was to approach it like Mad Libs, but I opted for a more organic approach.
In the end, my goal was to dissolve concepts of sex or gender of time and place and of context in general. Looking back, it seems one could create continuity differently. In dreams I’ve experienced, I’ve awakened to discover an element in the environment likely inspired the events in a dream, so perhaps the ticking of the engine could have derived from the ticking of the alarm clock.
My initial goal was not one of continuity, but reading ex post facto, it might need something to keep attention—rather a string to follow out of the labyrinth. On the other hand, that is more of a testament to a need for some narrative.
And so it goes…
Shout out to Nick Bostrom’s essay Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?