The philosopher Alan Watts posits a scenario:
Imagine you find yourself in a room, comprised of the walls that were covered in buttons. And you could press any button and get a certain result. So if you wanted to listen to Bach in surround sound with five speakers, you hit a button and it happens. And now you want it with 15 speakers, you hit a button and it happens.
And you could enter into scenarios, like a dream, of any situation that you could imagine. You could be anyone you wanted, anywhere, at any time. And for months or years you would go on living out life after life of anything you could imagine.
It would be awesome for a while, but when you always know what is going to happen ahead of time, you would get bored. You would want a surprise, so you would add one final button: Random. Press it and you are thrown into a life that you would never have imagined. When you die you’d end up back in the room.
Keep pressing that Random button, time after time, and at some point you would reach the point where you are now. Sitting there, reading this.
We live in a world where things often do not go ‘right.’ Cars break down, milk spills, toes get stubbed. When these events occur, we get upset. Because why do things have to go wrong rather than working the way that they are supposed to?
Only we must realize that that world, in which everything works perfectly every time, where bones never break, and we never get headaches, is a fiction. That world is no more real than a world of elves, dwarves, and Frodo Baggins is real.
Our world exists as it does. It can be no other way. My first computer teacher, back when we actually had classes in school to teach us how to use computers, said, ‘Computers are frustrating because they only do exactly what you tell them to.’ Our world works only exactly the way it is supposed to. It does not bend to your fictional will.
But what if it did? What if you were in Watts’s magic button-filled room and you could press any button and affect not only your immediate scenario, but take control of everyone in the world right now. The political parties would stop bickering and vote whoever you wanted into office and push through whatever legislation you wanted to be passed.
You could clean up the drug problem with the snap of your fingers, or legalize them. And people would cease all crime, if that was what you desired. And everyone would lay down their weapons all over the world and they would come together as a single community. They would go to work, they would be responsible for themselves, and take care of their families. They would not drink and drive, or even insult another person without your permission.
You could create your own personal utopia. The world in your mind that was always a fiction would become a reality.
Once everybody was on the same side, the same team, ready to work together and create a better world—your world—where would you go from there? What would you create? What’s the goal? How would the world improve? What criteria would you judge it against to say, ‘Ah that’s good, things are getting better?’
Would you feed all of the starving people? With six billion people working together that won’t take long. Pump energy into science to discover new ways of having sustainable energy? Figured that out, next? Send a man to Mars and continue space exploration or to the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean, where nobody has ever seen?
How many different worlds would you have to create before you got bored? Before you again, hit the Random button and found yourself right where you are now?
Play any fictional world or scenario out in your head, then keep it going, further, and further into the future? How does it play out? What’s at the end? What’s the goal?
As we move out further and further it seems that it is not actually control over our surroundings that we desire (as we may think), but to be surprised from time to time. Luckily for us we’re already in a world that gives us the latter.
Though it is fun for a time, if rather than playing out fake scenarios in our heads we can accept the world we have as it is, we see that it is no better or worse than any we can conjure up. It is the unexpected, the things that go ‘wrong’ that keep our lives enthralling. No matter how good the worlds in our heads seem, all of them will get boring at some point too, and so in the end our own world is just as good as the ones in our heads.