One of the issues with trying to surf the zeitgeist is precisely that – you remain on the surface with no depth of understanding of any individual issue. So high is the noise-to-signal ratio nowadays that it is almost overwhelming for many people to ascertain what information IS relevant and important to their lives, and what is not.
It can be hard to find the time to think deeply about quickly moving events, or to link them correctly to one another. In fact, such are the time and cognitive pressures that many people end up succumbing to conspiracy theories which offer neat and totalising explanations for the state of the world, provide suitably nefarious-seeming scapegoats and attempt to rally the public to action.
Of course, a lot of this action devolves quickly into “send me money”, but at that point some people are already sufficiently relieved to find a handy explanation for everything, happy not to have to think deeply, and grateful enough to contribute to the professional liars.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes or easy answers. Not for the world, and not for those of us who live in it. And there are many ways to become confused, or to pursue dead-end fictions, in the attempt to comprehend the fast-moving reality we find ourselves in. Conspiracy theories are just the odious tip of a large iceberg of false information and fake news. Beneath the surface are many other attempts to explain the world simply, or to simplify it, most of which are not as nefarious as conspiracies, but are in some regards equally constructed and equally untrue.
Two terms which crop up often these days, though maybe not often enough in this context, are the multiverse and the metaverse. The multiverse refers to the idea, widely accepted by theoretical physicists, that our universe is not the only one, and instead exists in relation to an infinitude of other universes, some highly similar, some wildly different from our own.
By contrast the metaverse is an as yet hazy idea quickly obtaining momentum among tech circles which proposes itself as the future of the internet, and seeks to displace or replace many aspects of contemporary life with a virtual reality alternative.
So the multiverse is an expansive concept and the metaverse is a limiting one, but both seek to tackle the issue of explaining the complexity of the world by replacing it with something else. And they do so in different ways. While the metaverse is a collective effort by tech firms, Facebook (now renamed ‘Meta’) in particular, the multiverse is an idea poorly adopted from theoretical physics and science fiction novels which has grown, like conspiracy theories, in the corners of communication that the mainstream media do not reach primarily.
Already it seems that the brave new Metaversal world may not be about to materialise in quite the way its ‘imagineers’ were hoping. Only today, Facebook – sorry, Meta – announced swingeing job cuts across their company, which is undoubtedly informed by the one billion dollars PER MONTH they have been spending recently on developing Metaverse tech.
Over the past three decades, we have as individuals, societies and even as species, learned to adopt, adapt and accommodate the internet in our lives. But the prospect of a life spent primarily in virtual reality seems to be a bridge too far for many of us. We are not our avatars. We are not inputs into a global algorithm. We do not need to escape meatspace for metaspace.
But it seems some people do want to escape, though perhaps not into a corporate vision of virtual reality. After all, movies like The Matrix have warned the public to be wary of dreamscapes, especially when those dreams are programmed by others. Instead, they escape into their own dreams, where the complexity of reality can be argued away, in all its nuances and seeming contradictions, by the simple assertion that they have migrated between universes.
The growth of a subculture of people who appear to believe that they can traverse between universes is a particularly fantastikal form of failing to deal with how complex the world has become. It’s clearly not as nefarious as the various conspiracy theories circulating online, but of course any movement attracts shysters and wannabe leaders, in search of money or influence, and hence there are now people offering to teach others how to move between universes.
In one sense this is no less valid than teaching people how to chant mantras, say the rosary or engage in any other religious practice that is more metaphorical than metaphysical. But one of the catalysing aspects of online culture is the ability for people to find like-minded people. Hence conspiracy theorists can find communities where their toxic ideas are cultivated, while multiversers can source validation and endorsement from others who similarly seek to explain the anomalies of their memory or complexities of reality in the same way.
There are no doubt complex reasons to explain why so many people are subject to psychological phenomena like the Mandela Effect, but these explanations do not include watching YouTube videos on how to meditate your way into another universe while in the shower.
Both the multiverse and the metaverse offer simplistic and ultimately unsuitable resolutions to the ever-growing complexity of modern existence. Fundamentally, these escapist dreamscapes are coping mechanisms for dealing with this complexity.
The world is already too complex for any individual mind to comprehend, and probably too complex for even artificial intelligences to ever understand. But we can’t, or at least shouldn’t, escape it. Instead, we should try to understand it, and the best way to do that is to escape not from the world but from our online echo chambers.
If we can learn again to speak to one another, identify areas of agreement and try to find ways to foster collaboration despite disagreement, we stand a much better chance of improving our own collective futures.
At Sapienship, we believe everyone has a story to tell and all those add up to the story of us. We think everyone needs to be heard, and debated, and engaged with. It’s not easy, but it’s clearly the best way to resolve the major issues that face us, our planet and our reality.
We don’t need to hide in virtual realities or imagine alternative universes when the one we have is so rich with possibility and potential. Instead we need to come together to realise our hopes.