New sci-fi movies have a warning for supporters of simulation theory

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If a stranger told you that the whole world is an impostor and you were living in a computer simulation, would you believe it?

Movies don’t often choose their moments, so it’s by chance that two movies about simulation theory, the idea that the world we think is real is actually virtual reality, were dropped the same day earlier this year. year. Amazon’s two sci-fi films happiness and the documentary A glitch in the matrix Consider the consequences of actions in a simulated world and amoral behavior when everything around you is the product of source code. They are less about simulation theory itself and more about the kind of people who cling to it. In A glitch in the matrix, which includes Paul Gude, Alex LeVine, Jesse Orion and Brother Laeo Mystwood, Ascher’s main interviewees, each represented by colorful gonzo avatars; in happiness, they are Greg (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Salma Hayek), two “real” people living in a simulated reality, where they benefit from telekinetic powers which are conferred on them by ingesting yellow crystals of suspicious and harmless appearance. .

They might have a drug problem. Or they could really live in a simulation. But what happiness alluded to without engaging in further exploration, and what A glitch in the matrix states explicitly, is this fundamental question: does it matter?

happiness (2021)
Photo: Darko Krobonja / Amazon Studios

happiness and A glitch in the matrix approach this dilemma from very different angles. In happiness, Greg, an unlucky divorcee, meets Isabel (Hayek), a Magic Pixie Cyber ​​Crust Punk, on the worst day of his life: he’s just been fired from his job, and he’s also just unwittingly killed his boss. Next comes Isabel, who informs him that the world and its inhabitants are being faked, helps cover up the death of her boss, and then takes him rollerblading, where they wipe out the entire arena with a few flicks of the wrist. . Bodies crumble left and right, some deserving, some not, until only Greg and Isabel are left standing, laughing, as happy as they can get at the sheer inconsistency of their violence. To his credit, Greg needs to be convinced before letting go. He is new to this reality, which is not reality at all, and he still clings to his old cultural blockages.

But when he Is unleashed, he twists his pistol fingers and happily fans his thumb-hammer as people fall like dominoes. He is free. He can do whatever he wants, and he doesn’t have to feel bad about it. He feels no remorse for the death of his boss. Nothing matters but personal satisfaction, a godsend that costs the lives and dignity of a few dozen NPCs.

Ultimately happiness slips on morality where A glitch in the matrix attaches to it. Paul Gude, pictured as a riff on Lion-O with a shimmering ruby ​​mane and centurion armor, tells Ascher of a conversation he had with his uncle as a child about 50 minutes later. A glitch in the matrix: “What if all this is wrong?” You know? What if none of this was real? ‘ And he said, ‘Well, then, what’s stopping me from going door-to-door and shooting people in the head? Or what’s stopping me from shooting you? ‘ Their exchange is reconstituted in a primitive CGI as Gude tells it; by the time it ends, the footage has highlighted the dark side of simulation theory. Gude’s ethical calculation does not change depending on whether the world is real or a computer program, but for his uncle, the conviction of knowing that our reality is the only reality takes precedence over his. own ethical calculation.

A computer rendered image of a disembodied brain hooked up to a series of wires and tubes, with a man in a white coat at a dashboard of blurry switches and dials in the background

Image: Magnolia Pictures

Gude, speaking to Ascher, seems haunted by memory and its human implications. If the only thing that keeps people from breaking laws and doing heinous acts is that people are real, the world is real, and actions have consequences, what does that say about your character? ? Is it morally good, or even just neutral, to act against the “wrong” people, as Isabel does? They are not real. We do not care? Drop a light fixture there. Hit them with a car. Programmed intelligences have neither feelings nor souls. Become crazy! The problem, like happiness casually implies is that it plays into the wish-fulfillment component of simulation theory: fantasy allows people to escape their unsatisfying life or to take responsibility for dissatisfaction with their life. If their actions are of no consequence, they are not responsible for the state of their lives, and this grim validation gives people permission to break all kinds of laws and mores.

In The matrix, Neo discovers that he is not a cog in a machine, and that he is the savior of humanity, the kung fu Jesus in a black trench coat; in Total recall, Douglas Quaid takes a vacation and finds himself embroiled in a civil war on the surface of Mars; in The thirteenth floor, the main cast all slowly realize that their world is a virtual reality simulation, and so a black tangle of backstabbing and murder ensues; in Existenz, VR game testing spawns bloody corporate espionage. The worst examples of VR gone wrong naturally expose the simulated violence as immoral, while the best examples – The matrix and Total recall – dress up violence in action movie costume. Notably, The matrixThe famous lobby shootout, which looks blameless even 22 years after the fact, has sober ramifications. Neo and Trinity don’t just take down hostile mobs in a video game, they kill real people connected to the Matrix working as security guards in the simulated world. Even defeating an agent means killing an innocent person whose consciousness is subsumed by artificial intelligence.

It is striking that Gude, Ascher’s first and most articulate A glitch in the matrix subject of the interview, clearly identifies the great moral dilemma of simulation theory: the argument for simulation theory differs from the argument that actions, even simulated, have consequences. It takes the story of Joshua Cooke, who killed his parents in February 2003 after convincing himself that the Matrix is ​​real, to punctuate how much belief in alternate realities can push people, and this murder, to this. either in the flesh or in 0 and 1, indulges our most terrifying basic instincts.

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