The Westworld reboot and Elon Musk recently renewed interest in "base reality," the concept that one true reality exists, and everything else, including possibly this reality, is a simulation of some sort. Now some billionaires are funding the search for an escape.
From Plato's Cave to The Matrix, it's often been an intriguing question posed in art and culture, but now there's a movement afoot to research the question scientifically.
Some attribute the recent interest to Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, but the provenance of the term "base reality" can be traced to Norman Spinrad's excellent essay "The Transmogrification of Philip K. Dick," in
Science Fiction in the Real World.
Spinrad was a close friend of Dick's. He wrote in 1990:
For Phil Dick, consciousness-altering drugs like Chew-Z in PALMER ELDRITCH, mental states like Manfred's autism in MARTIAN TIME SLIP, and ersatz subjective realities as in UBIK or A MAZE OF DEATH or EYE IN THE SKY serve the same function, literarily and metaphysically. Namely to demonstrate that altered mental states however they may be created create altered realities that are as "real" as what we individually think of as "base reality," since each of our individual "base realities," far from being the absolute we like to pretend it is, is itself a unique subjective reality, arising as it does in our own unique biophysical matrix. In this perception lies either the solipsistic madness of total psychic relativity or transcendent wisdom, and the greatness of Dick as a writer, what makes him by far the greatest metaphysical novelist of all time, is that, having opened the door to this ultimate spiritual, perceptual, and metaphysical chaos, he leads us through it to true wisdom along a moral vector.
Bonus video: Musk fielding a question about base reality.
Image: A fave from the immensely talented Laurie Lipton