Discover more from The Expression of Life
in a virtual reality game
This is Part 4 of the XL Series on UNITY.
One of the things that’s confusing about our modern world is that it isn’t one world, but many worlds.
Take a few rides on public busses and subways, sit in some cafes, and walk the streets, and you’ll find people living in their own worlds. This was probably always true to some degree, but it’s certainly more dramatic now.
Technology has unified our world, and fragmented it at the same time.
Additionally, since we’re now spending about a quarter of our waking hours on our phones (not to mention our other devices), the already subtle lines between reality, augmented reality and virtual reality are becoming increasingly blurred.
Advertisers rely on this blurring to sell us their products. Consider that the advertising industry grows year after year, now grossing nearly 1 trillion USD yearly, (roughly 1% of global GDP). I remember hearing one of the great Jewish mystics and philosophers of the 20th century tell me that he found ads to be personally insulting to his intelligence. “Do they really expect us to buy this rubbish?” And yet, we do.
When we sit back and relax to watch our favorite TV show, we willingly suspend our disbelief. We quickly stop questioning whether or not the events we are seeing are “real.”
If it’s a fantasy series, we accept the existence of dragons in order to fully enter and enjoy that world.
If it’s an action series, we let it slide that the bad guys can be such terrible shots that all the good guys have to do to dodge bullets fired at them is run fast and occasionally duck their heads.
If it’s a sitcom, we don’t question the fact that we only ever see three of the four walls of the main character’s living room.
Once we’ve let go of our grasp on reality, we’re much more willing to accept at the commercial break that drinking a certain brand of beer, or getting X car insurance will “upgrade our lives” like it does for those happily insured people who are giddily drinking beer on the beach.
Countless times a day, we grant permission to others to dissolve our sense of objective reality.
Putting aside advertising companies, most private individuals today are regularly “advertising” to others what is going on in their “real” lives. By now, we all realize, because many of us do this ourselves, that social-media-reality is not reality. The manicured shots of our family vacations and outings carefully curate out 99.9% of the messy moments which aren’t nearly as “instagrammable.” And yet — somehow — unless we check ourselves, we do instinctually believe that the stills and reels we see are real.
But let’s be fair. It’s not the tech, advertising and social media industries that are the boogeymen here.
Every decision we make — with our own free will —carries with it beliefs which we absorb into our minds.
When we eat healthy, we are ingesting nutritious food, but we are also ingesting the belief that our bodies are worth taking care of with every bite. On the other hand, when we eat junk, we assimilate and substantiate the opposite belief into our self-image. This is true about everything we choose to do, see, and say.
Each of us is constantly shaping our sense of reality through the choices we make. No need to point fingers elsewhere. We do more than our share of reality distortion.
But all is not lost. The most real thing inside of us, our souls, invariably desire to live lives that are real — lives that are aligned with reality — not someone else’s fantasy or our own delusions.
If only we could point the way to reality from within our confusing maze of virtual realities…
Where is reality? This is an especially hard question for us to think about because our modern world exposes us to so much information and misinformation — so many different cultures, religions, and worlviews that it seems that there is no unifying reality. It’s as if every person is walking around with their own oculus headset, experiencing their own private reality.
We can start by accepting the fact that if an individual is having a subjective personal experience — whether he or she’s being overly anxious about some remote possibility, or daydreaming, or God-forbid, suffering from a true psychotic break — these experiences are real to them. This is one valuable truth to be gleaned from our woke world. Everyone does have their truth. It is real to them as their experience.
It is for this reason that trained therapists do not outright deny their patients’ delusions. What they can do is “hold space” for them as they work their way from their unhealthy, distorted subjective reality back to a healthier sense of objective reality.
(If you’re unfamiliar with it, read the short story of The Turkey Prince by Rebbi Nachman of Breslov on this therapeutic process.)
This is all true. People do have their subjective truths. But Reality with a capital “R” is not merely the sum total of people’s private personal realities with a lowercase “r’s.” Reality must encompass all of our private realities and at the same time be more than just all of them put together.
In our search for this Reality that can unify and contain us, we naturally turn to science. The appeal of science as the method for discovering Reality is clear: science provides us a method for verifying truths about the world, and come to an agreement that we are not simply experiencing personal hallucinations (this was the subject of Part 1 of this series on Unity).
Essentially, science helps us come to an agreement about Reality through experimental data that is testable and repeatable.
The problem with science is that it’s so powerful that we forget that it is merely the set of tools that helps us approximate this magnificent thing called “Nature.” What we explored in Part 2 of this series is how science takes as a given that the Laws of Nature are unified in the first place.
Science can tell us how the universe is unified, but it can never answer why it’s unified.
Let’s continue with a parable to help us explore this question.
Imagine that you were an avatar in an immersive virtual reality video game…
…but didn’t yet know.
If you were a thoughtful player, you would pay close attention to the patterns of how things work in the virtual world in which you live. What begins as a hunch, with time, turns into a theory, and with more time, is revealed to be an ironclad law of your virtual universe. Your increasing proficiency in these laws and how to navigate them in real time is what makes you a better and better player of the game.
One day, it begins to dawn on you that every single phenomenon you’ve observed is governed by these laws, and yet you’ve never questioned where exactly these laws are written into your universe.
Remember: since you don’t yet realize you’re merely an avatar of a virtual universe, you’ve never thought that your world was intentionally designed and created. Everything just is. And, as far as you know, always was.
But this mystery starts to bother you. There’s no centralized hard drive anywhere in your universe that stores all the laws of your universe.
You’ve managed to describe how things work using elegant mathematical formulas in your personal notebook, but how is it that these laws are magically written into the actual fabric of everything everywhere?
The universe and its laws seem inseparable.
You start to perceive the wisdom of your world as omnipresent. The more you realize this, the more you become tempted to worship this sacred wisdom that defines everything you know.
Your mind is spinning, but these simple questions of where these laws are “written” and how they are “written” leads you down an intellectual rabbit hole that you can’t help but follow…
Laws are not deities. Laws are just descriptions of patterns.
Why are there patterns?
Laws don’t compose themselves. There must be some central intelligence that determines everything. Your imagination struggles to conceive of how this could work.
What sort of entity is causing this world of yours to take shape in such a coherent way? There must be something that is unifying and orchestrating everything. How else could all the laws work in concert? You start to see every element of the world as an instrument playing in mathematical harmony. Something is conducting the symphony. What could it be?
But the word “what” doesn’t quite cut it…
If the central intelligence were a sort of super AI, then it could be called a “thing.” But AI is artificial, and “artificial” means put together by a being with real intelligence. If there was a central, artificial intelligence, it would just beg the question again: who programmed it?
Ultimately, the He or She Who coded your unified universe must be a totally unified Being, Whom was not coded by anyone else.
Someone not something.
This hits you with devastating force.
You and your world were created.
You are an avatar, and your world is a game.
Everything you know emerged from a singular desire and intelligence.
You barely comprehend what it means. You certainly can’t picture the mind from which your entire existence emerged. Regardless, its truth suddenly becomes unmistakably clear.
It is at this moment, that the next question immediately runs through your entire being like electricity, and electrifies the world around you:
Why would you be created?
What’s the point of this game you’ve been playing?
There’s clearly a point. Every game has a point.
You cannot conceive of a purpose to rules if there’s no goal.
What are you here to do? Following the rules doesn’t win the game. What does it mean to win the game?
These are the kinds of questions that begin to bridge the created reality you live in with the ultimate Reality from which you came to be.
And all you want is to live a life that is real.
Technology has introduced challenges that define, in many ways, modern life. As a society, we need to continue to work to rein in its power for the good of humanity. However, without a doubt, technology provides us with an incredible palette of metaphors for grasping ideas that were previously too abstract for most people to grasp. (This was one of the many, many teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the “Chofetz Chaim,” at the turn of the 20th century).
How can we apply the parable of the Avatar to our world, which is, as far as we can tell, is a real reality, not a virtual one?
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement (1698-1760), would often teach that the following verse from Tehillim (Psalms) is the secret to perceiving the unity of our world:
He would teach that this verse could help us understand what it means that God spoke the world into being:
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi later explained at length what the Baal Shem Tov meant. When God said, “Let there be a sky,” this was not a one-time command, but one that stands eternally.
The laws of our universe are like computer code, which needs to stay written in the back-end for the user interface to remain visible.
There can be no user interface without code written in the back end.
There is a Creator.
His Wisdom inseparably shapes everything about us and our universe.
As we embrace this awareness, our minds race with questions we may have never asked ourselves before, but at the same time, we feel embraced by an all encompassing Oneness of there being nothing other than this Oneness.
In the next XL, we will explore the electric question of “why?”
May we be sealed in the Book of a Life of Living in Reality.
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