Thursday, 4 August 2011

Off on a Tangent

In the year 1000 AD (After Duxxan, the revolutionary inventor), chiwanity has reached an incredible era. Their binary brain systems have not been modified by much, having been declared as 'sacred' and the 'vessels for the 50 souls', which harbour each of the main chiwan emotional states as identified by the high priests. But the Duxxanites, and their heretical ways, still scheme away, and after almost a century of lobbying, have persuaded the governing elite to add into each child born, a simple, if elegant, mechanical switch wired to each of the main parts of their brains. Why, you ask? The proximate cause is that which was told to the pure, untainted senate - that the insomniac minority was actually a majority, and despite how maybe in a different society in a far off galaxy (if one could exist!) may have attributed this to some other underlying factor, the senate was simply told that this was a hereditary thing (for who could be as pure as the governors!). The switch was essentially designed to bypass the brain's natural course of shutting down, and 'turn people off' at the push of a button. But this is where it got weird for the governors: a mechanism was installed into people so that, when sunlight came, or when their brains had decided they had had enough sleep, their arms would automatically rush to their heads and turn themselves back on again. But for some strange reason, this only happened in about 30% of the cases - dropping as each day passed. People would simply not stop sleeping! But this was simply down to laziness, the 'voice of the people' said. New jobs were being created by employers so that the remaining 30% could go into the employees' houses and wake them up. And it worked. Most of the time. You see, those blasphemous Duxxanites were up to something: for the minimal fee of a few hours' between-network allowance, and the necessary knowledge of bypassing the governors' filters, a person could change their 'off-switch' to permanently keep them in a dream-state. At first this was simply seen in a few cases, but eventually, around 70% of the working population had succumbed to the disgustingly unholy vastness of the dream-scape. Operations were performed, brains were dissected, but all in all, it was discovered, that the Duxxanites had designed the switch to be so closely interlinked with one's brain that nothing, but death, could stop the endless stream of dreams. New cults began closely tied in with the ability to switch oneself off, but they died out as quickly as they formed. Not, as publicly stated, because the government shut them down for good, but because each member could not stand to be away from his or her dreams to spread the good message to the rest of the world.
     In 1050 AD only the governors remained. Each, in retaliation and due to the repugnance of the public's descent into non-reality, refused to press their off-switches. Reality is so good, they said, that one must experience as much of it as possible. Do you know that people spend a third of their lives asleep? What a waste! Reality is far too magnificent to do so. Each of them died in the agony that the fellow chiwans they had enslaved felt on a day-to-day basis. I remember only a few of the dreams I've had in my life, but every single one was better than what I have, and what lies before me. I wonder what people would do if they had an off-switch - if people had an easy way out, would far more of them take that way out? You may say that suicide rates not being particularly high is a reason why they wouldn't, but the simple fact of the matter is that suicide is painful, and hard, and the fear of death shadows every action a person makes. But if the endless sleep that many people like me so desperately crave could become a viable alternative to life itself, I think most people would come to understand soon what the most satisfying choice is. Life is like being a donkey, working your ass off for a single, rotten carrot. Dreaming is like finding out that you are so immensely important that the Earth literally belongs to you. Personally, I think, I'd take dreaming forever over death any day, but to use James's terminology, I'd say Dreaming > Death > Life, for me.   


  1. It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine how many people would kill themselves if there were a simple off switch. I would imagine it would be quite a few people. It would feel a lot better to know that was always an option.

    One thing I have thought about is how many parts of the day I would sleep through if I could. In the sense that if you could accomplish the same thing being asleep, would you choose to be asleep? For example, working, going to the grocery store, etc. One thing I realized is that most things we do in life it would be preferable to sleep through, which demonstrates that life is not as great a gift as many people imagine it to be. How many people could honestly say that if they had a chance to live through their entire life again exactly the same way would actually want to do that?

  2. Some evidence for the proposition that the availability of an "off switch" would drastically increase suicides is provided, first, by Thomas Joiner's model of suicide, in which one of the three significant factors is the development of competence - the ability to actually carry out the act. Second, as an example of how this plays out in real life, in most countries the male suicide rate dwarfs the female suicide rate 4:1 or so, but in parts of Asia, the female suicide rate equals or even exceed the male suicide rate - and it's almost wholly explained by the availability of lethal chemicals that can be ingested and reliably cause death, the likes of which are simply not available in the first world.

    Half of all gun deaths are suicides in the United States. Having a gun in the home significantly increases the probability that someone in the home will commit suicide.

    Suicide is a highly desirable action that is largely prevented through coercive means. If there were an "off switch," absolutely suicide rates would skyrocket.

    I contend that this is as it ought to be: there should be an off switch. No one should be forced to stay alive simply by the lack of a comfortable, reliable way out.

    Imagine playing a virtual reality game with no ability to get out of it at will. How horrible! Who would play, especially if significant pain were likely? Who would let their children play?

  3. In the US our society is so obsessed with controlling what drugs people put in their bodies, and with preventing people from killing themselves, that I don't think any kind of comfortable and reliable suicide method is going to be available here anytime soon. Many people don't even want terminally ill people in horrible pain to have the option of killing themselves.

  4. "Imagine playing a virtual reality game with no ability to get out of it at will. How horrible! Who would play, especially if significant pain were likely? Who would let their children play?"

    I never thought about it being this way! Indeed, we don't need "virtual reality" games, even an "ordinary" computer game will do. Suppose you are simply not allowed to shut down, say, Age of Empires, until you either win or lose. Who would let their children play it, then?

  5. It seems so wrong that even though we had no choice about being born, we are not allowed any easy way out when we want it.