Perspective

Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The dream

I just finished watching an episode of the tv series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which really touched me. At this point in the season's story-line, many of the characters have been forcibly put into a simulated environment called the Framework which is sort of like a holodeck, their bodies restrained but their minds existing in a virtual reality, unaware it's not real, a reality in which all the things they have regretted most in their actual lives hasn't happened. A reality where they are simply happy.

I was just thinking about this earlier today ... what would my life have been like if the things that have been the most painful hadn't happened after all? Who would I be if my father hadn't abandoned us, if I hadn't been diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease just after college, if my husband hadn't divorced me? A different person? A happy person? Is there something wrong with wanting that?

In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, a couple of the characters have evaded being put into the simulated environment and they are trying to extract the others, save them and restore them to their real lives. And one of the characters who has been in the virtual reality but is now out decides she would rather die than go back to a life devoid of the pain that made her who she really was.

Remember The Matrix? There's a part where Agent Smith tells Morpheus that the machines tried simulating a perfectly happy virtual life for their captive human population, but that no one would accept that ...

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your "perfect world". But I believe that, as a species human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. So the perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.

And remember Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in which the characters have the chance to have the pain they carry taken away, but Captain Kirk tells the others he needs his pain ...

Damn it Bones, you're a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!

But I guess I don't really buy this trope. Maybe this is just a story we tell ourselves ... that suffering builds character, that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger ... because we're powerless to change things, because we need a narrative that allows us to go on living in this world where there's so much suffering.

At the end of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, we see those characters who are in the simulated environment .... Daisy in a life where the man she loves is still alive, Phil in a career as a teacher helping kids instead of as an agent getting people killed, Mac in a life where his baby daughter didn't die after all ....



Why can't real life be like that? It should be.

PS ... the music that so well fits with the final scene of the episode is from On the Threshold of a Dream by the Moody Blues.

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