On a train trip from Krakow, Poland to Lviv, Ukraine, I spent almost the entire six-hour journey listening to the audiobook version of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
The book feels like a trip through my past and the possible future all at the same time.
In case you have never heard of it, here’s a brief synopsis from CinemaBlend.com:
Ready Player One takes place in the dystopian future of 2044. The world is an ugly, nasty, overcrowded place where most people live in “stacks,” which are literally mobile homes piled on top of one another to near skyscraper heights. In this dismal setting, much of the population escapes into an expansive virtual reality world called OASIS, where people do everything from go to school, work, and even just hang out with friends in virtual basements on virtual couches.
When he died with no heirs, James Halliday, the creator of OASIS, revealed a massive pop-culture saturated puzzle, a kind of sprawling scavenger hunt. Whoever solves this riddle and finds Halliday’s Easter Egg becomes the owner of OASIS and is immediately the richest, most powerful person on the planet.
So, of course, everyone wants to be the winner, and these people are called “gunters,” short for Egg hunters. This group includes the protagonist, Wade Watts, a poor kid from the Stacks. Ready Player One follows his quest as he searches for the Easter Egg.
The virtual world of the OASIS is full of nostalgia from my own youth. I grew up playing SEGA and Nintendo, watching Star Trek, Dr Who and Japanese Animation, as well loving so many other popular games, TV shows, and movies from the 80s and 90s.
Ready Player One‘s author Ernest Cline, takes these elements from our past and places them into the future. The OASIS is a completely immersive virtual universe, with all the classic games, movies, books, and TV shows available as worlds to explore.
When technology reaches a point where it can deliver a virtual reality experience that in many ways is better than our real-life experience, it’s easy to imagine people choosing their virtual lives over their real ones.
It’s also easy to imagine that this technology is not too far away, we already have MMORPGs – online games with expansive worlds you can explore with other people connected via the internet from all over the world. VR headsets are also available today, although the technology has a way to go before it becomes as ‘real’ as the experience described in Ready Player One.
When Virtual Reality Is As Good As Reality, How Do You Know What Is Real?
Consider that our lives right now are one big very convincing simulation.
We can also create simulations within our simulation, like OASIS from Ready Player One. Then within that simulation, we create more, like a game within a game (my first taste of this was playing sub-games within other games, like a full snowboarding game you can play within the game Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation).
My all-time favorite childhood movie is the Neverending Story. Towards the end of the movie (spoiler alert!), we find out that we are actually taking part in the story.
Bastion, the main character, discovers the world of Fantasia when he ‘borrows’ and reads a big book called The Neverending Story.
As Bastion reads the book, he follows the story of Atreyu, another young boy, who goes on a quest to save the Childlike Empress and all of Fantasia from the ‘Nothing’, an emptiness eating up the entire world.
As the movie reaches a final climax, the characters become aware of each other. Bastion, who was reading The Neverending Story book, enters the story himself, crossing over into what is left of Fantasia and meeting the Childlike Empress.
This in itself was an incredibly cool idea when I first considered it. Imagine being able to crossover into any of your favorite storybook worlds. I loved the idea of a book within a book (a fantasy, or simulation, within another).
However, what happens next truly blew my mind…
We also enter their world.
The characters in the book are aware of our existence!
Still, to this day, this moment in the movie has a similar impact on me even as an adult (I’ve watched The Neverending Story more times than any other movie in my life, and read the book version twice as well – which is the original source material for the movie, written by Michael Ende).
The Childlike Empress explains to Bastion that we (the people watching the movie) followed along as he was chased by bullies, then entered the bookstore where he finds The Neverending Story book. We were with him as he begins reading the book and learns about Atreyu and his quest to save Fantasia and the Childlike Empress. Finally, we are there, with Bastion and the Childlike Empress at the end, when everything has been eaten up by the Nothing.
I won’t completely spoil the final conclusion to the movie for you. You can go be part of the story yourself 🙂
Multiple Layers Of Reality
Once again, consider that the life you are leading now is a simulation. There is another layer ‘up’ above us, a being or entity is following along as you live your life, just as we followed Bastion, and he followed Atreyu, in The Neverending Story.
Now, let’s go a little deeper down the rabbit hole. Let’s take the red pill…
It’s easy to consider the ‘down’ path. We can create simulations now, and we can also create simulations within simulations, and then simulations within those simulations (like the dreams within dreams within dreams in the movie Inception, or the computer simulation within a computer simulation in the movie The Thirteenth Floor).
The ‘up’ path is a little more challenging to believe in because our perception is limited to the simulation we operate in. We believe in only what is right in front of our senses, and that’s it, just as a character in a game world does — they behave within the confines of their programming.
If we are currently living in a simulation, that means there is a layer above us, something or someone created our existence, our simulation.
Religion and spirituality call that creator God.
We could all be avatars, with our souls operating in a layer up, experiencing the game that is our life.
Now, let’s go even deeper…
Consider the layer above us, our God, also has a layer above too.
In essence, what we call God has a God too.
God is operating in a simulation, one that we can’t comprehend, but one that our simulation exists in too.
The ‘entities’ of that existence, use the simulation that is our lives, to have an experience, just as we do when we read a book, watch a movie, play a game, and possibly one day enter a virtual world like OASIS from Ready Player One.
Now, let’s go even deeper still. Consider this…
The layers are infinite, both the ‘up’ and ‘down’ paths.
We are operating within a simulation, and god above us, operates within a simulation, within another simulation above it.
Just as we create simulations and then simulations within those simulations for our own purposes, our creators, are created and they are created by something else, and onwards and upwards.
Now, here’s the final leap, straight out of the rabbit hole into full awareness…
There Is Only One Layer
All these layers, all these simulations, exist at one layer.
When a programmer creates a video game world, or an author writes a fiction book, or a group of people come together to make a movie, that simulation, that world still exists in our world.
The tools of one world, are used to create another. All that changes is the framework, the perception you use to view that world.
When you enter a new world, you change your operating parameters, you alter conditions to create a simulation with a new set of rules in order to play the game.
However, given one simulation is made up within the other, they both exist in the same place at the same time. There really is no ‘up’ or ‘down’, there is only a change of perception to create a new environment, a new experience.
Therefore, all simulations exist in the one existence, all at the same time, but you can only perceive the existence you have the tools to perceive with at the moment. You can only use the avatar you have right now to comprehend and operate your life, even though true existence is much larger — there is a grander simulation operating that you simply cannot perceive.
Or put another way, there is only one God, made up of infinite gods, all creating their own very unique experiences, within infinite simulations, simply by changing perception.
So Why Does This Matter?
You might be thinking, all of this is an interesting thought experiment, but how does it really impact how you live your life today?
Here’s the most important point, if you are to fully embrace what I am explaining here, it can completely change your life (even if your life is a simulation – it’s the most important simulation we are aware of right now!).
It can all be summed up by answering the big question we all face in life — what happens when we die?
When you stop playing Super Mario Brothers after Mario dies, you may end that game, but you don’t stop living. You leave one simulation and return your focus back to the bigger one, your life.
In other words, death in one world is not the end of the game.
Instead, death actually results in an expansion of your perception. You regain the wider field of awareness you had before you began the simulation.
Think about that for a moment.
When you create or enter a new simulation, the framework or rules of that simulation restrict perception. For example, while playing a video game or watching a movie can be a very immersive experience, it only provides input to some of your senses, your eyes and ears (sights and sounds), your hands on a video game controller (touch), etc. This feedback is still enough to influence emotions, which is why we love simulations — they make us feel something.
Consider that in order to enter your current simulation (your ‘real’ life right now), you had to restrict your range of perception as well. You have to use an avatar made up of a human mind and body, which science tells us, while incredibly powerful, is still very much a vehicle with limitations — we’re not really experiencing everything that’s going on, just a slice of it.
That choice to restrict perception by operating within the confines of a ‘limited’ human mind and body is deliberate. We have the perfect tool to play within the game we are playing that is our life (just as Mario was programmed to operate perfectly in his world), even if in the grand scheme of things, it’s limiting our ability to perceive most of what is really going on.
Which leads to this one last, very liberating idea…
When we die, our awareness of what we really are returns.
And therefore, we never really can die. At least not in the sense of a final ending.
Death is simply a process of restoring ourselves to a form of expanded awareness.
We may in fact, experience this process at many levels. Just as we can ‘die’ while playing Mario, we can die in our current life, and possibly even die, or change form and expand awareness even further still, in whatever form we take when we are not living as a human being.
To put it simply, the story really never ends, and neither do you.
Which leaves us with one big final question –
How would you choose to live if your existence was forever?