Where We Head to When There’s Nowhere to Run The Metaverse, the Universe and the (sad) future of our species...
The phrase “life is a struggle” aptly describes the experience of writing about anything other than the ongoing war a year after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, but so much has already been written on the topic (and so much will yet be written – in vain, though) that a distraction would be welcome for the sake of mental sanity. Thus, we “struggle” with the temptation to join the “library” division of the corps of strategists operating deep behind the front lines, specifically the “armchair reasoning” battalion of the “ex cathedra” regiment. Nevertheless, it is impossible to keep at it indefinitely, for the boomerang of wandering thoughts will follow its own course, no matter how much one may try to shift one’s mind away from the unceasing horrors. In Sci-Fi literature and cinema, the desolation of Mother Earth following a (nuclear, technological, environmental etc.) cataclysm is usually coupled with the remaining population fleeing to the unknown worlds of outer space and/or retreating to the catacombs of what’s left of the planet, partially sedated through immersion in surrogate cyber-realities. In other words, it is an outward and/or inward escape.
The Matrix and Interstellar; behold two contemporary pop culture portrayals of our species roughly 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang, attempting to stave off its Big End brought about by war between men, between man and (manmade) machines, or between man and humanly-hampered nature. The Matrix depicts a future where daily existence as experienced by humans is in fact the so-called “Matrix”, a simulated reality generated by sentient Machines in order to appease and subjugate an unruly human population, using the heat and bioelectricity of the human bodies as a power source for the AI-powered rogue devices. The hacker-programmer known as Neo, suddenly awakening in this virtual reality, which is both a prison and a base of operations for the anti-Machine insurrection, finds himself in a bonafide cyberpunk crusade, armed with philosophical-religious ideas in a film inspired by The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, Hong Kong action flicks, spaghetti Westerns and Japanese animation, as critics noticed.
In Interstellar, the future of the Earth is marred by natural calamities, famine and drought. No major war is explicitly mentioned, but it is hard to believe that climate change can be solely the (unintended) effect of frivolous and fraudulent international-capitalism-and-democracy, perceived as either the best or worst of all possible worlds, excepting all the others (to paraphrase Leibniz as well as Churchill). The film reveals that only one option is left for the survival of the human race: interstellar travel. A so-called “wormhole”, discovered at the far reaches of our solar system, offers a chance to a team of astronauts to go where no man has gone before (with the notable exception, for the connoisseurs, of the Star Trek celestial escapades), namely a planet that may host an environment suitable for human existence, and thus serves as a refugee/sanctuary for building a new home for humanity and repentantly restart the very odyssey of our species.
Yet, neither the nascent Metaverse, nor the (more or less faraway) space colonies can really serve as a viable solution to retreat and remove ourselves from an earthly world that will have lost its balance. If we ignore the verdicts of civilisation – which, albeit battle hardened via the progressive increase of the infamy of the means used for even more deplorable purposes, has only really made progress when it suspended such pursuits –, as well as those of cultures which, for all their diversity, show better preservation when people preserve their abstention from evil, then there is no escape. Virtual reality, even one we would all consent to and, unlike the Matrix, would not act as a prison, is unsustainable as long as the balances of the physical/material world are destroyed, if it leads to alienation offering a simulation as an alternative to bygone sociality, or if it risks being colonised by the evil “from without” (and the latter is not such a far-fetched prospect since the distribution of vice and virtues is the same both in- and outside Cyberspace).
As for outer space, it would be delusional to believe that it will become a friendly habitat any time soon: it will take hundreds of years and several “gazillion” dollars (or whatever currency the future will bring) until we will be able to breathe the cold, hard air of celestial bodies lying at unfathomable heights. If we disregard life on Earth, we will only be able to make spasmodic attempts at reaching for the stars; if we care for life on Earth, we won’t have any reason to rush into astral meanderings, but rather we’ll merely “harvest” space to bring in resources needed here as opposed to sterilely struggling in hostile environments. Colonising extraterrestrial inhospitable worlds is a vain endeavour that bears little resemblance to the adventure of the conquest of terrestrial “frontiers” in search of a better fortune (and often bringing misfortune to those already living there). The “New Frontier” of humanity is neither the Metaverse nor the Universe, but the “old frontier” of humaneness, which we shall only conquer by allowing it to conquer us first.