Will virtual reality mean the death of lucid dreaming?
Recently I saw the movie eXistenZ by David Cronenburg. It’s about a fully-encompassing virtual reality game, where of course, something screwy happens and you begin to question what’s real and what’s not.
To play, you have to surgically install a “bio-port” at the base of the spine that the game plugs into. Conceivably, the game interacts with the brain via the nervous system via the spine. Users then “plug in” and are transported into full-scale virtual world in which they can interact with others and the environment, just like they would in the real world. Pretty neat.
Ultimately, eXistenZ suffers the same fate of so many other science fictions film; cheesy characters, bad acting, with predictable scenes all along the way.
But 45 minutes into the film it actually goes from “this is starting to suck” to “okay this is getting interesting” once they go into the game known as eXistenZ.
Anyhow, the movie got me thinking about lucid dreaming and virtual reality, and how similar the two experiences are.
There’s a scene in existenz where they’re speaking in front of a game character about the fact that they’re in a game, and guy just stands there, wobbling back in forth, in a “game loop,” not understanding what they’re saying. This cracked me up and reminds me so much of just the general weirdness that the existence of a dream character entails, and how strange it can be to tell a dream character that they are just part of your dream.
Beyond this little snippet though, the overall experience of being in an “unreal” environment that fully encompasses all the senses is what makes lucid dreaming and virtual reality so very similar. Obviously, lucid dreaming is a kind of virtual reality, and I think it rightfully fuels an interest in the development of virtual reality systems.
However, I don’t think the reverse will be true.
Virtual reality, once possible, could very likely have a negative effect on the growing culture of lucid dreaming.
Because, let’s face it – lucid dreaming is hard!
If you could simply enter into a virtual world at the touch of a button, wouldn’t you do it?
And wouldn’t it be awesome?!
Ah…but it’s just a fantasy right?
Well, I really don’t think so. If global warming or a nuclear war doesn’t ruin everything, we could develop the technology for virtual reality systems here in a few decades.
If this sounds ridiculous – and it probably does, considering, well, futurists are always wrong – go grab a snack, get comfortable, put on your thinking cap and then read this presentation by Ray Kurzweil titled The Human Machine Merger: Why We Will Spend Most of Our Time in Virtual Reality in the Twenty-first Century.
Ray Kurzweil is one of a few dozen figureheads who speak about the exponential acceleration of technology, and how this is going to result in a “Singularity.”
This term has become somewhat of fuzzy concept with lots of different meanings, but it’s safe to say it includes the point where we create an Artificial Intelligence that exceeds human intelligence. Once this AI is created, it will create increasingly more capable AI’s, who in turn do the same, and so on, creating a point at which the future simply whisps off into a singularity beyond our capacity to even imagine.
(Yeah, that’s a lot to take in. I realize it sounds pretty absurd if you’re hearing it for the first time. If you’d like to learn more, get ready to have your mind blown so hard that it’s gonna splatter on a nearby wall and check out The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil and Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – and What It Means to Be Human by Joel Garreau. Radical Evolution is a more unbiased look at what’s coming and I recommend reading it first for anyone not already familiar with Kurzweil’s ideas.)
What’s this got to do with lucid dreaming?
Nothing in particular, just that I think those of us who are fascinated with the idea of being in a lucid dreaming world where we can do whatever we want will likely find it fascinating that we’ll be able to replicate this concept virtually, without going to sleep, without any special skills, without supplements, and without techniques, cheaply and easily here a few decades.
For me personally –
If I could enter into a virtual world at the click of a button, I bet I’d eventually spend much less time exploring the world of dreams.
What would you do?