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.