The Infinite Tsukuyomi

      7 Comments on The Infinite Tsukuyomi

In the manga (and anime) “Naruto”, there is one particular technique called the “Infinite Tsukuyomi”, which roughly translates to “Eternal Dream”.

For those of you that never read or watch it, I’ll quickly explain the premise. Most of the world is made up of ninja countries and ninja villages, and they really have trouble getting along. They are pretty much always at war, kiling and betraying each other. There are supernatural techniques, and different types of mythological creatures around. A big part of the story is about different kind of eyes owned by different clans, that have certain powers, including manipulation and illusions. One of the villains near the end is trying to enslave the entire world in a huge illusion called the Infinite Tsukuyomi, in order to finally obtain world peace and make everyone happy inside it.

The next part is a spoiler, so only read it if you either already know the ending, don’t plan on ever reading/watching it, or just don’t care about being spoiled.

During the illusion, we get to see a couple seconds of the “ideal” lives (in the illusion) of some of the characters that are trapped. It really looks fun. In the story, the simple idea that this is all a lie and not real seems to be enough to motivate pretty much every ninja to try to prevent the spell from being casted, or try to free the people inside it. The physics in Naruto are pretty weird, and there is no conservation of energy or mass anyway, so from the name “Infinite Tsukuyomi”, we can expect that the real bodies currently asleep will not die after a couple days from lack of food and water, somehow.

I am more interested in the idea. If we had, in real life, a method to put everyone in a perfect illusion where they could be happy, where there would be no war, no fights, no pain, no accidents or sadness, and there might or might not be death from old age, should we do it? If we assume that the illusion technique is completely believable, everyone in it thinks they are in the real world, and they stil have free will, or at least as close to free will as we have in real life, to enjoy it. The method should either allow them to live for a very long time, live until old age, or experience time faster in order to feel like they lived for centuries. I can’t honestly swear that I would say no.

Obviously, there is a conflict between the “free will” and the “no fights” part, but this could be solved either by an also very believable illusion of free will, or a different illusion world for every single person, so that everyone is living what they like the most.

From the outside, thinking about billions of people sleeping and dreaming for years or centuries certainly looks dystopian. But the more I think about it, the more I realize every single objection I have to the idea would no longer apply once it’s started. If, from the inside, you truly have no way to figure it out, then it’s not dystopian, it’s an utopia. It is as close as you can get to paradise.

Obviously, as always on this blog, the next part is the weird part.

What if we’re already in it? Considering the earlier “free will vs paradise” conflict, if the creator of the illusion chose free will, then our world could very well be the illusion. That’s completely different from the Simulation Hypothesis. In the Simulation, it’s pretty pointless to think about it, since either way the “original” world would be exactly the same as ours, if physics are truly deterministic. In this case, we would not just be code in a computer. There would actually be a real body somewhere. And that real body, for some reason, chose to enter the illusion. When we think of an illusion that we could make, we dream of having plenty of food, time and energy, having great friends, finding true love, travelling around the world, etc. If we are the illusion, that means the “real” us were dreaming of our world right now. This means that, our world full of war, famine, death, and pointy-haired bosses, was their dream. It was better than their “real” world. That is incredibly scarier than the Simulation Hypothesis, at least in my opinion. Just how bad was their world?

Now that the weird part is over, here’s the real question:

Assuming that we are truly the originals, and some day we create this technology, and we know for a fact that it is safe and reliable, would you say no to it? If you would, but the majority of people said yes and you ended up not having the choice, would you fight against it? Would you try to prevent other people from going inside, even if they wanted to? And, more importantly, do you have any rational and logical reasons to say no to the reliable offer of happiness? Is there any actual value in something being “real” or “original”, if there is no way to see the difference?

The best reason I can come up with is the fact that, when you are never experiencing sadness, pain, or conflict, you will eventually forget about them, and you won’t be ready when it comes back. If you’ve never experienced even the slightest pain for thousands of years, if you experience a “bumping your little toe on furniture” level of pain out of nowhere, you could actually go insane or have some huge psychological trauma from the experience. You won’t learn how to solve conflict, how to deal with sadness, or how to tolerate pain. Even this reason of mine is a stretch, since there is no reason for the illusion to add those things later, if it’s truly perfect. You wouldn’t be prepared for them, but I don’t see why you would need to anyway.

  • Yeh, yeh, Manga equivalent of the Matrix, with more free will (deliberate choice to live that way). You do seem to love these off the wall speculations.

    As we discussed in the Simulation Hypothesis, I’m an intense Realist. So I absolutely wouldn’t want to live in a perfect simulation, what a waste of an actual real life that would be. We evolved to exist in the real world, bumped toes, sadness, pain, death.. and taxes:-), and the simplest explanation is that we do exist in the real world along with everything we see around us. Scientific observation of the world around us has led to a vast array of incredibly accurate partial explanations of reality (theories) and technologies built on them. If there’s no scientific test to determine whether we live in the real world or a perfect simulation of the real world, it’s an entirely fruitless speculation.

    There was a film that sounds rather similar to your suggestion – called “Surrogates”, starring Bruce Willis. It was a near future world in which practically everyone is experiencing the world via artificial bodies, and their real bodies are safe back “home” plugged into a support system. Guess what. It wasn’t that great an idea:-)

    • Kaito Kid

      I’m curious as to why you would consider a real life “wasted” if there was “bumped toes, sadness, pain, death and taxes” in a fake life? Isn’t it exacly the same? I really don’t understand the value of being real by itself. I haven’t seen the movie (it’s now on my list), but I guess, one way or another, like in the manga, something else had to happen in order to make it “not a great idea”. a betrayal, a non-perfect simulation, people killing or abusing the real bodies, etc. It’s probably not just the artificial bodies by themselves that make it a non-great idea?

      • Just to focus for a second on one unimportant part: you really haven’t seen the Matrix? seriously? I’m impressed:-) For one who thinks so much about reality and simulated reality, I’d have thought it was an obvious film to watch! EDIT: Or perhaps you meant that you haven’t seen the “Surrogates” film?

        My dislike of the fake, and love of the real, comes down to my worldview I guess – we find ourselves here in what we assume is the real world, initially we know very little, we observe, learn and reason about the real world around us, after centuries of doing this we discovered all these amazing laws of the real world (and universe), most amazing of all: the fact that we evolved from simpler beings by untold generations failing to die before reproducing in that real world. All of that is undercut – made completely pointless in fact – if the world around us is not real. Of course it’s possible that our Realist assumptions are wrong – we’re not in the “real world” at all – but unless there’s a reliable test to determine real/fake, that’s pointless speculation IMO.

        But I accept that your point here wasn’t that we might happen to be in a fake world without knowing it, but that we might deliberately choose to live in a fake world at some point in the future, as a conscious act of will. You’re right: that’s rather different.

        I guess my answer is: yes, it’s possible that we might, for some perceived advantages (reduction of bumped toes perhaps? or avoidance of pain and sickness in general?), but I would suggest that we’d be very foolish to do so, because our bodies and minds evolved to exist in the real world and interact with it continuously. Hiding away from that might work for a while – but our real bodies would still be intensely vulnerable, back in the real world, who would protect them and maintain the technology supporting them while we run about in our virtual playground? Also, what would happen to our bodies, lying idle for months on end – wouldn’t our muscles atrophy from disuse, even assuming optional nutrition? and what about our minds – as Scott Adams’ arguments suggest, the mind’s health is very dependent on the health of the body.

        • Kaito Kid

          I saw the matrix haha, I was talking about Surrogates. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

          I 100% agree with you that in practice, there are loads of risks and I probably would be too scared to accept it. I still think that, in theory, if there was really a way to know it’s going to be perfect and safe, I’d want it. Actually, if the risk is lower or equal to our everyday life right now (everyday you could get hit by a car and then it’s over, or die 1842 other ways), that would probably be enough for me. It’s just that in practice, new technologies are the most likely to have unexpected problems, so I would have a really hard time trusting it. My computer can’t even run for more than 48 hours straight without starting to do a bunch of weird stuff, so you would need to be VERY convincing to persuade me that an eternal illusion machine is reliable.

          • Ah, I genuinely thought on first reading you meant you’d not seen the Matrix, then on second reading I thought you meant you’d not seen Surrogates, then I got confused:-) But no problem.

            As to your theory/practice point, I agree with the “in practice, loads of risks => too scared to do it” point, and I quite agree about the problems of reliability in new technology (although I note that my main work computer runs Linux and has been up happily for 182 days, with me using it intensively many hours a day five days a week. However, if it was also my life support machine, I’d definitely worry:-)).

            But getting past the easy “too risky to trust” cases, there’s surely no way of making any system “perfectly safe”, even in theory – theories of long term survival have to cater to rare disasters: eg. assuming that electricity is involved, what if the system power is cut? do I wake safely, do I need support staff help, or do I drown alone in my life support tank? if power cuts are bad:-), can the organisers control the power supply that well? fine, they add humungous UPSes, they only provide power for a short while; what if the UPS runs out (or malfunctions). fine, they build their own power station: but one day it fails, breaks or runs out of fuel. fine, they build two power stations: but one day a plane, bomb, tsunami or small asteroid totals both:-) etc.

            Also, what about the bodily exercise point, that seems pretty critical to me: our bodies evolved to move about, regularly. There’s an argument that our current embodied-sitting-in-front-of-a-computer lifestyle is already too sessile for our good long-term health, but how much worse would floating in some kind of a life support tank be? fine, I suppose there could be a treadmill in my tank that I pointlessly exercise on, ideally some implanted hardware takes control of that, relieving me of the need to remember do that:-) but does that exercise every part of my body properly? btw: the floating-while-using-a-treadmill suddenly sounds ominously like a hamster-wheel version of the Matrix, doesn’t it?

            However, having said all that: I suspect that I’d still want to “stay real” even if it was “as near perfectly safe as possible”, even if it was in fact safer than real life, because I think we **should** live in the real world that we’ve evolved to live in, because that’s critical for our survival in the real world, long-term. Sure, we’ve modified and improved our real world hugely over time, I’m certainly not arguing that we need to stay hunter-gatherers (that ship has sailed, or more accurately, sunk). But thinking that we can opt out of real life in the real world, for some safe, pleasant life in a fake world, would be a serious error for our long-term survival, IMO.

            • Kaito Kid

              About the computer point. I’ve owned computers that were extremely reliable and had no problems whatsoever except the obvious aging that makes them close to useless after just a few years. The point was more along the lines of: There are some computers that are “lemons”, and that have a bunch of unexpected problems. The idea of a lemon was born with cars that also had too many unexpected problems. Even if it’s just one in a hundred or one in a thousand, that’s definitely not the kind of thing worth betting your life on.

              • Fair enough, I agree completely with some computers that are “lemons”, independent of operating system:-), and that we wouldn’t want to bet our lives on the reliability of any of them:-) Of course, one can build (or create philosophically for the purposes of this discussion) a much more reliable computer, with no general purpose operating system on it, the whole thing being built solely to run “life support for people”, with lots of fault tolerance built in, and perhaps even every line of code in it formally proved correct. But even if that component is the most significant part of the “people life system”, it’s not the whole system – and that will still be vulnerable to power interruptions, unless it extracts it’s own power as plants do via solar energy, and also still vulnerable to physical damage or destruction too.