On Monday night, following a fairly intense weekend, I was woken several times by a dream (nightmare?) that became serialised in the bouts between waking.

I would live through one crazy episode of it before being startled into life, only to drift back off and plunge straight back in.

I can only imagine that Freud and Jung would have had a field day because it felt torturously significant whilst also being as bizarre and esoteric as dreams always are.

I was visiting the house of a new girlfriend (though, typically, one that I’ve never met in real life). I say ‘house’, but what she lived in resembled more a dark, monolithic castle, complete with winding passages that meandered beneath archways of stone and hunting dogs stalking for entertainment in its courtyards.

In the kitchen - an archaic affair of long wooden tables and benches, bare and cold - she introduced me to her family. Her father was a pale-faced snake-oil salesman with an acidic tongue. The sort of man who would tell you your future and steal your money. Her brother had bright red skin, a shaven head and wild golden eyes. Neither of them seemed to like me very much.

At the head of the table was her mother. A squat, intense woman with a sardonic smile and the forearms of a malevolent blacksmith, cooly handling a rolling pin in way that implied she knew how to use it, violently.

As I made faux-pas after faux-pas the family became more and more unwelcoming and, probably somewhere around episode four at about 7am waking-time, I was chased through the castle by their dogs, who were now walking upright on their hind legs, biting and snarling at me around every corner.

Talk about a restless dream.

It reminded me of the incredible way that conscious experience is all subsuming. The unquestioned knowledge one has during a dream like this, the fictional inferences and memories one draws on, the absolute reality of the absolutely unreal, also reminded me of Robert Nozick’s Pleasure Machine.

The premise of his thought experiment is simple.

You are offered the chance to pre-design a simulated life in which you can be whoever you like, achieve whatever you want, even re-write the laws of physics to your own advantage. There would be no chance of you ever suffering, or falling out of love with your simulated life, because you could simply pre-programme it to ensure that in this alternate reality such a thing was literally impossible.

The catch (or appeal, depending on your outlook) is that once you are in the machine you lose all knowledge of your previous ‘real’ life, the choice you have made to enter the machine, and you can never come out again.

Thought experiments such as these are generally designed to tell us more about our intuitions than our powers of logic.

And if your intuition suggests to you that the Pleasure Machine would be a bad idea, then it seems like you’re in plenty of good company (see Christopher Nolan’s Inception, or the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix quadrilogy for further details).

For many, such concerns centre on the pain it would cause their friends and family. We’d be robbing them of their relationship with us and hurting them in a way that we’d soon forget.

For others there seems to be a quasi-spiritual instinct that favours the authenticity of the status-quo, though that doesn’t stop us striving for watered-down versions of the same scenarios we would inevitably programme into the machine, despite how difficult reality might tend to make their realization.

And, when we’re tired of striving, we sit back and scroll through them on Instagram or simulate them ourselves in video games and dark corners of the internet.

Maybe, on some level, it’s the striving that we’re really all addicted to. The wrestling with the unknown. The thrill of the ball cannoning in patterns we can’t trace around a roulette wheel that won’t stop spinning.

Who knows?

Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

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