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Paul Hawkins

Clicking the World Away: Addiction and The Future of Consciousness

Part II (of II): How Not to Become a Drug Addict

The Brain

When we talk about ‘baseline states’ and ‘feeling better’ and ‘pleasure,’ it’s easy to forget that we are talking about states of consciousness that arise out of the specific physical arrangements and activities of a blob of steak one centimetre behind your eyebrows. Indeed, the further I sunk into the quicksands of a thousand-tabbed WikiBinge, the more it seemed to me that there were three powerful ideas that could be woven together into a pretty convincing patchwork model of addiction, leaving very little wiggle-room for non-biological concepts like will-power or moral failure of the kind Peter Hitchens would like Chandler to admit.

I. The Limbic System

Probably the most useful thing to know is this: your brain has a ‘reward system’ called the limbic system, and its job is to be triggered by pleasant things. Here’s the Harvard Medical School on the subject:

 
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens […] Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center. All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release […] The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli.

 

So, in a way, we’re all drug addicts, which is fun. It’s just that some of us might be better trained or more predisposed to generate our own natural drugs the sober way. Even the mildest of everyday dullards is chasing the hedonistic highs of a cup of tea, a nice sit down, or a well-executed sneeze.

The Limbic System also explains why you can get addicted to basically anything you want, if you’ve got enough time. Popular addictions include sugar, gambling, sex, porn, coffee, power, buying things, tanning, smart phones, exercise, procrastination, lying, Facebook, sky-diving, learning, being right, internet gaming, and violence. Essentially, all of these rewards are converting to the same drug – that neurotransmitter dopamine hit that makes you feel rewarded. Your brain logs these rewards, and then helpfully generates cravings on your behalf whenever a recognisable ‘environmental cue’ pops up, which it has learned is the precursor to you acquiring that fabulous dopamine flush again (like smokers seeing cigarettes, alcoholics walking into a bar, or almost anyone hearing their smart phone go ping!)

If we grant that a spectrum might exist between a limbic system really prone to addiction and a limbic system not at all prone to addiction — and we can, since we know from brain scans that an addict’s brain structure glides from one state towards the other (‘down-regulation’) as their addiction increases in severity — then it’s easy to imagine that some people might be born with ‘worse’ (i.e. more at risk) limbic systems than others. As our brains are neuroplastic – especially children’s – it’s further probable that certain childhoods and life situations might be better or worse for developing a shitty, unhelpful limbic system. If a person’s conscious states (I’m happy! I’m sad!) are arising somehow from underlying brain states (Dopamine! No dopamine!), then it’s probable that someone with an unlucky, low-functioning system might have all kinds of problems compared to ‘ordinary people.’ Issues like, oh, um, I don’t know…

 

problems2

 

It’s no wonder people without healthy reward systems would respond stronger to (artificial) rewards, because they could be achieving highs which are relatively closer to other people’s descriptions of middles. The shy cocaine user gets a peek into what its like to be confident. The bored weed-smoker gets a glimpse into what its like to be interested in things. The troubled heroin user gets a crystal-clear preview of what it’s like to feel content.

 

Sometimes, people are getting addicted to being better versions of themselves. Other times, they’re getting addicted to just being a bit more like everybody else.

II. Epigenetics

Just as we used to think brains were more-or-less static before we developed an understanding of their ‘neuroplasticity,’ so too had we pigeon-holed our DNA as a stubborn old mule, before learning recently that it wasn’t so set in its ways as we thought. In fact, our DNA is riddled with genes that ‘express themselves’ (turn off or on) in response to environmental factors.

Genetics told us we had one set recipe of genes for a human in every cell of our body (DNA). Epigenetics, however, tells us that this recipe can be tweaked, depending on the restaurant we’re cooked in, and the tastes of the time.

Epigenetic adaptability was certainly a nifty trait to evolve, since it allows in utero babies to already begin adapting – self-tuning their own gene-set – to the kind of habitat they’re going to find themselves in when they pop out (is it 1998 or 68,048 B.C.? am I in London or the Mongolian steppe? am I going to be a Pharoah or a riverside idiot?) An unborn child’s genes are already responding to what they’re learning about their expected life situation through clues in their mother’s blood; their blood. If, inside the walls of a womb, they’re absorbing hints of a fat-rich diet or high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, for example, certain epigenetic genes might be turning on or off to have the best possible chance of survival in an environment that is apparently rich in fat or potentially stressful (am I an Inuit? are my parents a bit nutty?) Meanwhile, if the mother’s and father’s epigenetic signature is telling the baby that cigarettes, sugar, drugs and booze might be on the menu, they might come out epigenetically adapted to expect those rewards instead. Yikes.

 
Addiction is a disorder of the brain’s reward system which arises through transcriptional and neuroepigenetic mechanisms and occurs over time from chronically high levels of exposure to an addictive stimulus (e.g., morphine, cocaine, sexual intercourse, gambling, etc.) [1]  

It’s a pretty staggering and helpful discovery to make, since it means our DNA is more of a work-in-progress than we originally thought. The gene-expression you were born with won’t be the same one you’ll die with, and you’re quite free to upgrade the exact configuration in the meantime, ready to package them up and pass them on to your lucky kids. This life-long presence of an ‘epigenetic drift’ has been well-confirmed in Twin Studies, where “twins were epigenetically indistinguishable during their early years, while older twins had remarkable differences” [1]. The flip-side of this, unfortunately, is that your body can also physically adapt to situations that it doesn’t understand might not be very good for it in the long-term, like the expected presence of loads and loads of narcotics, for example:

 
Natural rewards, like drugs of abuse, induce gene expression of ΔFosB in the nucleus accumbens, and chronic acquisition of these rewards can result in a similar pathological addictive state through ΔFosB overexpression […] ΔFosB overexpression triggers the development of addiction-related structural neuroplasticity throughout the reward system. [1]  

It’s almost like a kind of evolution, except on the time-scale of individuals. Cooler than that, because there’s evidence that you might be inheriting predispositions to certain health problems and addictions from your parents, you might also have some level of control over whether you would like to do the same for/to your kids. Fun. What better argument is there to stop smoking, for example, than the grander idea you might be helping to quite smoking on behalf of your poor little unborn baby, and maybe even an entire genetic line of your ancestors who so far only exist as a glimmering string of potential in your loins?

Lastly, it’s been plausibly suggested by some scientists that trauma might also be getting carved into our epigenetic lives – we might, all of us, possess underlying biology still imprinted with the dark shadows of the Second World War, the Holocaust, and all of the other general badness that’s been passed from generation to generation through the dumb Russian doll of human history. If we act towards sorting ourselves out – because “the human genome and future generations are likely to be mosaics of the past genome, due to epigenetics”[1] – we might really be doing one small part of sorting out the future. (Think of the children!)

III. The Diathesis-Stress Model

Once you have the genetic and epigenetic predisposition for addiction by either inheriting and/or absorbing a bodge-job of a limbic system (a.k.a. the ‘Diathesis’), all of the pieces might already be in place for some recognisable trouble, except one… the Big, Shining Problem button on our Remote Control (the ‘Stress’), and whatever substance or activity we find to make it temporarily go away. In this way, you might already be a kind of pre-addict as a child or teenager, potentially prone to develop a nagging baseline problem, coiled unknowingly to latch on to the addictive object that will one day offer you reliable, instant relief from it. With this ominous scene set, the last part of the explanation we need is fulfilled by psychology’s sexy-sounding Diathesis-Stress Model:

 
According to this model, people are born with a certain biological or genetic predisposition to a mental illness. But not all of those people will actually develop the mental illness they are predisposed to. Some will go on to lead happy lives […] Some, though, will experience situations in their lives that will increase the likelihood that they will develop the mental illness. If their life situation is serious enough, the combination of environment and biology will lead them to developing the illness.

– Natalie Boyd PhD


 

This ‘stress’ could be anything – a shitty job, a bad marriage, a bully, whatever the great froffing chaos of existence feels like randomly assigning you. The Diathesis-Stress Model – backed up by a great deal of empirical evidence, including more Twin Studies (give your twins to science!) – forms a nice bridge between the ‘Nature’ and ‘Nurture’ arguments (and also the Not a Very Good Choice and Disease camps), because it explains the last piece of our puzzle neatly – that is, the role and importance of ‘will-power.’

Some people may be totally predisposed to addiction, but never develop a seriously negative mental illness because they scraped through the gauntlet of life without the right duration or sequence of unpleasant nonsense. Other people might have great bouts of Stress, but not possess the right Diathesis for addiction at all. The Diathesis-Stress Model allows psychologists the space to sensibly explain why the child of two drug addicts might not necessarily be predetermined to follow the wonky path of their parents (even if we’d bet from their epi/genetic profile that they should), and why some people seem to be able to take quite a lot of drugs just for funsies, and still live functional, happy, productive, well-adjusted lives, the bastards.

Put together, these three ideas form a pretty compelling case that an addict’s problem with rewards, compulsion and delaying gratification are worryingly pre-determined, long before they even get a chance to grow into adult attributes like self-autonomy, moral values, or ‘will-power.’ ‘Weak’ adults are just ‘weak’ children that got taller, so at what height do we decide to blame them for their upbringing – who they are, as opposed to who they were made? Even if we want to ignore the pre-determined factors outside of an individual’s control, what good are we doing to blame addicts for having lives that they so regularly need artificial assistance to deal with?

Perhaps the most charitable thing you could say about the old-fashioned Argument that Addicts are Weak-Willed, indeed, is that ‘Will’ is a commodity which is extremely unfairly distributed at birth. Furthermore, even if a baby wins the genetic/epigenetic lottery, certain childhoods seem almost pro-actively designed to inhibit the development of a healthy reward system. If you want to think of yourself as Wonderful, Brave, Intelligent and Determined because you are not any kind of addict, then good for you. We all find you very impressive. If, however, you want to judge addicts as losers, spongers, wasters, and annoying degenerates, please remember that you are only able to do so from the Ivory Tower of the absolutely, massively different brain that you don’t deserve.

You weren’t smarter or stronger or better than an addict; you simply didn’t have the same obstacles that you perceived them stumbling at, silly.

(The ‘Privilege’ Tangent)

Oh, hello again. You’re never going to finish this article, are you? I felt like this was a nice place to have a distracting mini-rant about “privilege,” as many people you see on the television these days saying things seem to be rather blind to their own privilege-rich personal contexts, and therefore feel like they must “deserve” everything that they have. Weirder than that, though, they think that other people who don’t have what they have, must not have it simply because of some personal fault of their own. Lack of hard-work, maybe? I mean, you work hard and life rewards you. Their life hasn’t rewarded them, so… they must not work hard, right? Yes, that’s it. Logic! People who naturally think like this are like fish, swimming in water, that don’t know the water is there. Then they are asked to explain why they are so good at swimming so much, compared to, for example, cows (poor people), then saying, “because I’m not afraid to swim hard!” (Understand? Ok. Now please stop voting for Trump. You’ve had your fun, America.)

   

Blame the Brain

Regardless of the point we’re starting on the addiction-predisposition scale, we should all be well-advised to be a bit careful with Pleasure. While it’s oft-quoted that 10-15% of the population are addicts, what seems more likely is that the whole population is on a bumpy sliding scale between extremely likely to get addicted and not at all likely to get addicted. You are somewhere on that continuum, and it would be a shame to have to find out exactly where because you assumed you must be part of the all-clear 90%, so pass the crack pipe, please.

In general, it’s worth keeping a bit of a tab on those little innocent thoughts that pop up in your head, which always seem to take the form of you freely having another one of your very good ideas – the thoughts that go, “Hm, I quite fancy a coffee,” or, “I wouldn’t mind a cigarette now.” When those thoughts pop up, they always feel like a rational, well-considered choice has been made. “I just fancy one, yeah. I am doing what I want, and listening to my body, and being my authentic self, and nobody can stop me, and I ain’t no sheeple,” we hear ourselves saying. But what is probably happening (to a smoker, for example) is that The Little Thought, which feels oh so like a freely thought Thought, is popping up more and more frequently throughout the day, the year, the life. Underneath the hood, what is probably happening is that the Limbic System is adapting to need more of that reward, and the amygdala is sending sneaky cue-reminders into your conscious landscape to hook its Limbic System brother up. We’re indulging every single new “I fancy a…” without protest, but we’re spectacularly good at deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re still in total control.

 
They tried to make me go to rehab, I said: no, no, no.

– Amy Winehouse


 

We have to remember that cravings used to be useful for early humans. Brains are naturally selected to respond strongly to sex, non-poisonous tastiness, and whatever else might have increased the individual organisms chances of blasting its self-styled genes into the future. The poor organ in your head, however, evolved for a massively different context than it is now presently in.

This is important to realise: your brain doesn’t know civilisation has happened.

Like a dappy, nostalgic, mind-boggled old granddad, your brain still thinks and acts exactly like it’s the good old days: the simple, small tribe, food scarcity, life-or-death world of the Savannah plains. That’s why it cannot be left alone in charge of your life and health, with its cravings and its desires and its racist old idea of what is and isn’t a fruit. It doesn’t know the world has become a refined-sugar paradise.

 
sugar-cocaine_small

Gullible.

 

Your brain is like a caveman that has been teleported into Time Square – there is simply no way that its biology knows what a supermarket or a bar or a casino or Amazon or Netflix or CandyCrush or Facebook is. It doesn’t understand the new ease with which it can solve problems its had since antiquity – boredom, hunger, horniness, etc. Your day-to-day 2016 rational mind might think its doing nothing more harmless than ‘browsing pornography on the internet’, fine, but the confused meat-walnut in your skull still thinks it’s in an East African nomadic group filled with infinite tits, and its orders are to hump continuously at all costs. ‘I’m doing this for the species!’ it thinks, no matter how long you spend alone in a dark room with an old sock in the skin-coloured glow of a laptop screen.

Oh dear, oh dear. Your brain needs a carer, I’m afraid, and your gratification-delaying rational mind is the only reliable candidate in range to do the job. (Sorry.)

This is why the hedonists amongst us are ill-advised to try and do everything we want, all the time, forever. Well, we could, but we must simultaneously remember that our brain’s have never heard of alcoholism, obesity, information overload, loneliness, financial ruin, back-pain, and other boring modern consequences. They are idiots about the world. They have never even left their own house. If we constantly tickle them with ‘rewards,’ they will always think that we are having the best day ever, no matter how much our lives are getting gradually, consistently, predictably worse. So, we should be careful to notice the cues and cravings we get, and think about which ‘rewards’ are serving us, as they are evolved to do, or which ones have been effectively ‘hijacked’ by modern life and absurd human-made abundance, and are now cramming our dopey old brains with empty calories, cheap pleasures, and hollow rewards.

 

The Dimmer Switch

If you feel like you are your best self on drugs, then those drugs will represent a serious risk of dependency and addiction. You’re subjectively addicted to the feeling of being your best self – although you might be more objectively addicted to stuffing dopamine into your hungry, greedy dopamine receptors – and why wouldn’t you be? Being your best self sounds nice.

However, if you could use drugs to glimpse some ‘better’ version of yourself (more confident/more patient/more loving/more sociable/etc.), and then work on becoming that better self without drugs, then the risk of addiction might be better contained. After all, a drug could only be unlocking something that is already inside your hardware someplace, however well it is normally hidden in your baseline state of consciousness. How could they not be? They are not magic, or mythical, or spiritual things. They are molecules, of particles, of atoms. It would be preposterous to think a mere simple chemical could come enthused with transferable personality qualities, like ‘patience’ or ‘confidence’ or ‘wonder’, which must, surely, arise from a lot of information processing happening in some considerably more complex arrangement of molecules, of particles, of atoms, like a brain.

No. Drugs are a Remote Control of short-cuts to reachable destinations, hacking our neurotransmitters, cheating us to rewards that must be earned in nature. Of course, there’s something attractive to all this – it’s like being in The Matrix, and simply having a new feeling, ability or outlook instantly uploaded to your brain. However, the sober mind also has a kind of Remote Control, except it doesn’t have any buttons. Instead, it has dimmer switches – knobs and dials we can slowly turn over time to get us where drugs take us, without drugs. There is no quality that we can not learn, nurture, practice, or achieve with the practical application of enthusiasm:

 

fixyourself

 

The cost of the sober solution, however, is time – it’s effort-intensive to work on your weaknesses; it’s work, it takes practice; it’s slow; and it involves foregoing other things to make space to do it. The knobs and dials can be anything – only you, like the addict, can self-identify your ‘problems’ – but no doubt the usual culprits might be involved somewhere: exercise, eating better, working smarter, making effort in relationships, reading, hobbies, travel, therapy, meditation, you know, all those icky words that decadent hedonists stay up three nights in a row to avoid. However, the advantages of making actual effort to tweak these knobs and dials in the right direction is great too: the state changes are more permanent and more sustainable, because they are self-reinforcing. If you’ve worked on and internalised a more desirable state of being, you don’t need (although you might still want) cocaine to overcome timidness, MDMA to overcome barriers to intimacy, coffee to overcome tiredness, sugar to overcome sadness, weed to overcome boredom, or endless nightly wine to make life less dull. In other words, you are not relying on a crutch, but on yourself, and the handy, well-stocked tool-kit at your permanent disposal – upon the activities, habits, and outlooks you’ve purposefully built up in your inner realm.

What’s more, you might even become the rarest and truest form of hedonist imaginable – the one who equally enjoys the gaps between rounds of decadence.

 

The Future of Consciousness

Now we understand how we can get addicted to anything, and now we know that we live in a world so abundant in stimulants and pleasures that even everyday life is like a gauntlet of addictive traps, and now we know that that the only way to effectively immunise ourselves from lame and empty compulsions is to work on ourselves so that we can rely on our internal tool-kit, rather than the external tool-kit of button-clicking short-cuts, it’s time to consider the world of tomorrow.

There is something coming we need to know about, which is a subject that’s recently got me intrigued, excited and pre-emptively freaked out about the future (to a level one can only achieve with too much time on their hands.) It’s a technology which, for the most part, I’ve totally missed, misunderstood, misaligned, and am massively late to the party in thinking about: Virtual Reality.

There are three reasons why I’m late to this party.

 

1.) I don’t go near video games, at all, ever, so terrified am I of losing more of my already heavily-procrastinated daylight hours to a medium designed to be immersive longer-term than even a massive, massive book.

2.) I thought VR had all the hallmarks of a classically shit fad, like tamagotchis, Apple watches, or 3D movies (10 minutes of confusing blurriness, then 80 minutes of forgetting it’s even in 3D.)

3.) I’m an idiot. From the outside, all I could see was people that looked not unlike twats. It was hard to get excited about a subjective technology, when all I was noticing was how it seemed to me from the objective outside. Indeed, I was missing roughly the whole point; all I kept seeing was a human with a techy pair of yoghurt pots on their face, obliviously unaware of a room full of people chuckling at them, while they groped madly around like a blind person trying to rescue hamsters from a soup.

 

Then, of course, I tried it, and realised why it is going to be such a big, and dangerously addictive, deal. I went from ‘pft, this looks stupid’ to ‘wow, this is the next internet’ faster than you could say blind hamster soup rescue. To me, the name ‘Virtual Reality,’ despite it containing both of the ingredient words needed to comprehend the experience, hadn’t yet clicked into place:

It is Reality, except it is Virtual. Do you see?

(This is probably all painfully obvious to you, but please bare with me, just in case I wasn’t the last person on Earth to ‘get it’.)

For any one who hasn’t yet tried VR, the subjective experience is this: You are in a room with your friends, and then the annoyingly “with it” person in your friend group pulls out a face-strapped smart-phone head-band, and clamps it to your face. Then you push a button, click, and then you are on a beach in Tahiti. You are talking about Virtual Reality, then you push a button, click, and then you are in the reality of the Savannah plains, face-to-face with an elephant. You are putting an arrogant eyemask on your face, then you push a button, click, and you are making love to a terrifically convincing porn star, who is looking at you so lovingly that you become half-convinced you must be the kind of absolutely, fully, totally sexually-impressive person that you aren’t. All of this while, apparently, you are also simultaneously in another reality, groping around the living room of your friend Bryce, with a toy wind-shield on your dumb-looking head.

 
TV

“Yeah, you like that, don’t you, you naughty madam.”

 

When I took the goggles off for the first time, I was surprised by there being a real feeling of lag; like I had to adjust to where I actually was. ‘Objectively,’ Bryce thought Paul hadn’t gone anywhere. ‘Subjectively,’ I absolutely fucking had, and, as far I was concerned, Bryce might as well have been living in a bloody non-existent dream world, the freak. From one conscious moment to the next, I was in two different realities, and my daft, antique, arrogant-bacon brain struggled to make sense of this instantaneous transition, just as it does every morning when it has the annoying job of reconciling my gibberish dream-life with my otherwise unbroken sense of being one of the universe’s more sensible characters.

Well, here’s my point: consciousness is a bit like an experience – and what appears in that experience is heavily governed by the sensory inputs which are feeding it. Eyes, ears, you know the ones. Well, what if you could imperceptibly change those inputs? To trick them? The brain is an old, stupid bit of kit. It’s made of the same stuff as sausages. Just as it’s millennia-old machinery can get hacked by sugar, coffee, fat, salt, porn, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and social media notifications, so too can it be hacked using technology solely designed to imitate its sensory inputs.

 
vrbaby

Parenting 2.0

 

If you change what the eyes see (“The Oculus Rift is very, very close to the fidelity required to subvert your visual cortex into suspending its critical faculty”), change what the ears hear with binaural sounds (“Our goal is for the end user’s subconscious to be convinced the sound is not a simulation”), and change what the body feels (“haptics use force upon the skin to deliver real-time tactile feedback”) – then – in terms of subjective experience, you’ve basically changed reality, because reality – to you – consists only of what your consciousness is aware of (plus the thoughts and feelings that are always knocking around in there like eggs in a washing machine.) I mean, if you normally saw, heard and felt things that weren’t there, you’d call it a hallucination. Now, though, it’s just a technological psychedelic.

This is what the makers of VR want. This is their intention; the ultimate goal driving this fledging industry – which already counts amongst its backers our trillion dollar omnigods Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. What’s more, they’re racing. Just as crazy politicians and publicly-funded technology races have brought humanity the Atomic bomb and a cheeky moon landing, today’s ambitious nerds and their privately-funded technology competitions are racing in the direction of A.I. and Virtual/Augmented Reality.

Right now, it’s all a bit rubbish, but it’s only ‘a bit rubbish’ in the way that the internet in 1995 was ‘a bit rubbish’. This means, I expect, we’re on the cusp of another crazy revolution that our reward-bombarded monkey-brains will be hard-pushed to handle. We’re already so close, and we’re going to get closer and closer, very, very quickly, and we’ll probably – unbelievably soon – succeed with an almost imperceptible margin of error… maybe none at all. Reality itself will become one more thing that moves inside our control.

If you don’t think this will become the most addictive technology that’s ever existed, then you haven’t been paying attention to the smartphone phenomenon, which in 5-10 short years has turned 99% of humans in every train, airport, waiting room, living room, and bus stop into lamppost-shaped moth-zombies gawping at the alternative realm of reality that a mere four inch rectangle in their hands offers them. If you think, ‘pft, well, yeah, maybe, but VR is totally different, no one is going to want to look that stupid, ridiculous and self-absorbed in public,’ then you haven’t been paying attention to the selfie-stick phenomenon.

It’s coming.

 
future

The Grand Arc of Man

 

For now, you can experience a VR ‘movie’ from the standpoint of the eye-mimicking double-cameras only; but in the future, no doubt, you’ll be immersed in entirely CGI worlds; free to move around the alien world of Avatar as you’d move around the less good world of Delaware. It will be connected – wirelessly, permanently – to Internet 3.0, whatever that means. It will be live-streamed, interactive, auto-updating, self-writing. It will connect in weird, hard-to-predict ways with other other VR technology from all around the world. It will augment reality. It might just be in your contact lenses. You can go anywhere, on drugs, from your bed. It will make the world’s bored future teenagers with names like Kanye and Miley not entirely thrilled with Offline Reality. “Meat space,” they will call it, and it will be the equivalent of visiting a boring old relative for a cucumber sandwich, except one minute before you were sky-diving from The Moon on LSD with a tiger wearing a fez.

Whatever ‘problem’ you have, a solution might just exist at your fingertips. Whatever positive experience you want or crave, you’ll just have to press a button. Literally. It will be somewhere near your forehead, probably, and made of freaky clever plastic, and it will shoot you directly to Costa Rica, or Mars, or Nirvana, or Narnia, or, some kind of frightening endless Pornography Valhalla.

 
"Honey, I'm, uh, going to watch the new Pixar VR. See you in 3 hours."

“OK, honey, I’m, uh, going to watch the new Pixar VR. See you in 3 hours.”

 

I can’t decide if I’m more excited or terrified.

Until I decide, I’ll leave you with this: an idea that has long been proposed in science fiction as one slightly queasy possibility of solving the Fermi Paradox – the mystery of us being in an old, massive universe that seems statistically probable to be teeming with other intelligent life, yet us poor losers not being able to find any – that sufficiently advanced alien civilisations might not be the space-faring, UFO-owning, intergalactic, Star Trek-modelled sentient beings we think we are on the way to becoming. Instead, they might all be happily lounging on the couches of their home-worlds, plugged into their own planet’s networked version of The Matrix; hooked up to life-support machines, downloading endless novelty and pleasure directly into their meat. If we had that choice, might we take it too?

Could our old-friend addiction be the future of consciousness?

Or could our imperfect reality be that computer simulation already?

Probably not. Still, something to think about. Bye.

If you enjoyed this piece of writing, you might also enjoy Consciousness: Your Personal Customisable Universe of One.
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