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Strange Conversations: Manufactured Experiences

Illustration for article titled Strange Conversations: Manufactured Experiences

I have a question for you. It's about "designed memories," and you may find it interesting.


Imagine someone could plant an experience in your head.

I mean that in the most thorough way possible. To elaborate: Whenever you "experience" something, what actually happens is that a series of stimuli fire off neurons in your brain in a pattern corresponding to a complete multisensory account of a real-life event unfolding in real time.


Now, what if somebody managed to reverse engineer that? What if someone managed to figure out exactly which neurons in which combination added up to which element of a multisensory stillframe, right down to proprioception and interoception? And what if that person found a way to trigger those neurons in rapid succession, and made it possible to overwrite one's current consciousness with a manufactured experience running in real time, of which you were fully aware?

Okay, I'll admit this is a pretty big "What if?" It's easily beyond the realm of modern science. It may eeven be beyond the realm of future science. But let's just assume for a moment that, somehow, it could happen.


So, here's the question: If someone was to use that ever so precise technology to implant an experience in which you are horribly beaten up or otherwise put through the wringer, would it make sense to treat it like a real traumatic memory? After all, at the end of the day, no matter how visceral and complete it felt, none of it actually happened.

And for those of you that say yes (and I'm one of them,) bear in mind that this experience is as many parts illusion as any film, book or video game. So what makes one so much more disturbing than the other? Can an experience reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a video game be considered a genuine traumatic memory if the fictional moment is impactful enough, and has this ever happened to you? More specifically, Where does our ability to keep our distance from the media we intake break down, and when has this happened to you? When is the line crossed, and what even is the line? Can we cross it within the bounds of our existing media? At what point do we go from the safety of the "magic circle" to OGODPLEASEGETMEOUTOFHERE.


Try your hand at these questions in the comments below! I dunno. Just answer whatever questions you want to.

NOTE: I had a more detailed description of the scenario thrown in at one point, but the resulting story was so discomforting (and poorly written) I was scared by my own sheer cruelty (and hack-ness) and decided not to go through with it.

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