We have always lived in multiple worlds

When you put on a wireless virtual reality headset and walk around, your mind is in two physical places at once. Of course you know you are in an actual physical room. You realize that if you were to keep walking forward you would eventually hit a solid wall, even if you can’t see it.

But your mind is in another physical place as well — the artificial one that you are perceiving with your senses. This other physical place can seem very real indeed.

Eventually, as VR becomes more integrated into how we work and play together, people will start to get used to hopping between different artificial physical worlds. Such transitions will come to seem second nature. One moment I might need to be in a place where I am picking up some supplies, the next I might be in a room where a meeting is happening, and sometime after that I might visit a beach and just chill out a bit.

Meanwhile I am also always in a physical room, and part of my mind will never forget that. This is just a more visceral version of the double consciousness you feel when you watch a play: Even as you cry at some on-stage tragedy, part of your mind knows that you are actually sitting in a theater watching a fictional story.

Yet I wonder whether there is also a difference. Because we will be chosing when we enter these artificial physical worlds, we will feel a sense of greater ownership in our relationship to those fictional worlds.

Just as we always feel that we belong in the physical world, we might start to feel that we also belong in these other worlds as well — that in a sense we are actually living our life in multiple physical universes.

When that happens, the physical world may simply become one world among many, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It might simply be a natural evolution of the human condition.

Because we are creatures who communicate with one another through language, we have always been quite aware of the feeling of being in two places at once. In the late Paleolithic age when a tribal elder stood up to tell of some great victory in battle, the members of the tribe were transported into the world of that story, even as they remained seated around the fire.

We have always lived in multiple worlds. That is simply what we are.

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