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Virtual Realities

This morning I read a really interesting article via BoingBoing about a man who was able to both lead a normal life as government research physicist and also a complete, immersive fantasy life as an adventurer:

“This is the incredible true story of a physicist who believed he could project himself to another solar system and live as a swashbuckling interplanetary adventurer. When he was a teenager and living on a Polynesian island, he had read a series of “strange and adventurous” science fiction / fantasy books by an American writer. The protagonist shared his name, and eventually the physicist started thinking he really was the character. But he was still able to maintain a duel identity — he sort of “astral projected” into that fantasy world while keeping the appearance of a skinny-tie wearing physicist.”

The links to the original Harpers articles are here: Part I, Part II. Here he writes about the start of his obsession, wherein he began reading a series of books that featured a hero with his name:

“As I read about the adventures of Kirk Allen in these books the conviction began to grow on me that the stories were not only true to the very last detail but that they were about me. In some weird and inexplicable way I knew that what I was reading was my biography. Nothing in these books was unfamiliar to me: I recognized everything–the scenes, the people, the furnishings of rooms, the events, even the words that were spoken. My everyday life began to recede at this point. In fact, it became fiction–and, as it did, the books became my reality.”

Kirk read the numerous volumes of his “biography” over and over again. Soon he no longer needed the books “to refresh my memory,” but was able to recapitulate them entirely in his mind. While his corporeal body was living the life of a mundane boy, the vital part of him was far off on another planet, courting beautiful princesses, governing provinces, warring with strange enemies. Now, using his “biographer’s” material as a base, he took off on his own. Assisted by the maps, charts, diagrams, architectural layouts, genealogical schemes, and timetables he had painstakingly worked out while using the books for his guide, he filled in spaces between the volumes with fantasy “recollections” of his own; and when this was done, he began the task of his life: that of picking up where his “biographer” had left off and recording the subsequent history of the heroic Kirk Allen.

Fascinating stuff. This is especially interesting to me becuase of an odd period that I went through in my late childhood/early teens, where from about 12 to 14, I had very intense fantasies, like waking lucid dreams. These happened after going to bed, but prior to falling asleep. Sometimes the dream continued into my sleeping dreams, but I was still able to be aware and direct what happened to an extent. It was much better than real life.  :)

“For many days I pondered the question of how Kirk Allen could be restored to sanity–and yet remain alive. For there seemed to be nothing that could compete with the unending gratifications of his fantasy.”

The question in my mind was that Kirk’s psychosis was perhaps not such a terrible thing, especially since he was able to maintain a normal life. I think about how grey and dull my life is right now, and I think I would give quite a lot to be able to escape for at least a few hours into a fantasy world where I had adventures. Hell, it’s the reason why I game, and it’s the reason why I’m such a passionate reader.

Again, the two parts of the article are well worth reading, especially how the psychologist “cured” him by entering into his fantasy and sharing it. At the end, Kirk had admitted that everything was a story, and that he’d given it all up – he was cured.

Or was he?  Personally, I hope not. I hope he continued his adventures in Barsoom or wherever he was swashbuckling.

4 thoughts on “Virtual Realities

  1. I think the line that should be drawn is at the point where fantasy becomes part of reality so much that the person cannot (or refuses to) tell the difference. However, i’m certain that most people have a recurring fantasy of some kind, whether it’s in a game world or not, and I’m certain that this is a good thing – it excersises your brain, makes you more creative, and that side is particularly useful for IT people like us (I’m a Database Programmer) and is why we like gaming/reading and fantasy in general. I can imagine that a Physicist would be similar.

    I have met some people however that are the entire oposite – they don’t fantasise, they don’t excersise their imagination and have difficulty visualising anything if asked. I pity these people.

  2. @Akura: I can’t imagine a life without fantasy and dreams. I think it’s part of what makes us human. People without an imagination may walk and talk and hold down 9-to-5 jobs, but they lack something inside.

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