Is the coming online virtual digital Metaverse a metaphor for the soul’s existence in the Matrix of Maya?
The Metaverse - the concept of an equivalent digital reality that people exist in simultaneously with the real world – is only a year away. By 2020 gamers will be able to immerse themselves within their virtual digital world to a degree only imagined up until now.
Where is the Metaverse?
The concept itself comes from a novel written in 1992 by Neal Stephenson called “Snow Crash”. It describes a collective shared virtual space in which gamers, like those in Fortnite, are already beginning to glimpse the future world in which we could all one day be living and interacting. This persistent virtual space is like another country in itself, a whole new world, in which cyber-tourists live much - if not most - of their lives, gaming and interacting via their avatar among other avatars with almost no time or spatial constraints. This is the evolution of cyberspace, where the internet and our online social media persona mixes with our gaming character to become a new alter-ego, taking us to a level beyond mere gaming and digital socializing that we see today.
Millions of people currently, mostly Millennials of course, are living much of their lives immersed in their virtual game world to such a degree that regular waking life outside of the game is almost secondary to them. When your “Second Life” takes up more than 12 hours a day then it has actually become your first life. But apparently we are still at the early stages of the new altered reality called the Metaverse that’s being engineered as we speak. All that’s needed to make the alternate world really immersive is “deep inputs” that go beyond mere motion tracking. An array of cameras that monitor skin and facial expression, along with deep learning algorithms will soon be able to create artificial characters or avatars that are capable of believable, human-like interactions.
All of this has been explained by Tim Sweeny, chief executive at the gaming company Epic. In 2017 already he mentioned a time horizon of only three years before the Metaverse is available, and that means we’re looking at only a year from now, at which point we will have a system of inward and outward facing cameras that scan the body of the player wishing to enter the virtual world. This kind of technology will be truly powerful once launched into the mainstream market, in its ability to reshape the playing field of online “cybersouls” that spend much of their time in the gaming world. We are at the dawn of a new world, a new augmented reality, which could be exciting and also a little bit scary in its permutations.
Once the facilities are in place to immerse the player into the Metaverse, life there will go beyond mere gaming, to include many of the interactions in which we usually engage in the real world, so to speak. We will see the introduction of in-game economies - the buying, trading and bartering of items – become much more of a viable industry. People will actually start working or earning a living within the Metaverse, using digital currencies. Generally one is paid to do something because s/he is creating some goods or delivering a service that’s of value to somebody. There will be just as much potential for that in the virtual environment.
The dream will really be coming to reality when gamers can live their whole lives in the game world and even earn a living doing what they enjoy there. Welcome to the world of tomorrow where you get paid to be a gamer. And that tomorrow is dawning as this year rolls into the big 2020. Nothing like a big even number on the calendar or charts to create a psychological and cultural turning point for society as a whole. Will this be the roaring twenties all over again? Let’s listen to some electro-swing.
No longer will game developers be earning millions monthly for their games, but players will receive income too, in a bi-directional flow. This is not totally new anymore but is about to become far more mainstream as companies hire gamers to do jobs to enhance the virtual world in some way or another. Competition to build this Metaverse is hotting up currently among gaming companies and even social media platforms because the new virtual reality will be a combination of the two, a synthesis into something yet unseen, though certainly imagined. Here comes immersive virtual and augmented reality as part of our daily life.
One concern is that certain giant companies may become dominant in the field, as for example Facebook and Google are today, and as a result they may capture not only the market but also the direction and parameters of the social dynamics in the space. This may give them way more power than we would care to invest, beyond that of today. With the sharing of data and breach of privacy seen recently in these giant online companies, many are feeling a sense of injustice and an invasion of privacy that may become even more of a risk as we live even more of our lives online in the Metaverse under a single umbrella corporation running that space. Will they too simply sell our data to advertising companies to target us with ads and information that unwittingly steer our choices?
Fortnite leads the way
Games like Fortnite were never originally designed as such, but they are by default becoming the onramp to the Metaverse of the future. They are already attracting millions of players globally into a world with no real strict parameters other than to stay alive and collect assets, with borders that extend like those of an entire country into vast open space. One can roam around and build up a character with additional apparel and objects while engaging freely in exploration or socializing with other characters via their avatars. Just last month, in February 2019, a first of its kind event took place within a game world where DJ Marshmello – rated within the top 10 by DJ Magazine – held a live music concert exclusively within Fortnite. It was attended by 11 million gamers in the virtual world, as players used their avatars to attend the music concert and dance with their selected moves. Millions more watched the proceedings online via YouTube and Twitch. I doubt such a concert has ever been held before, although there have been live streamed concerts over satellite television, linking up many millions globally simultaneously in real time. But not as much in cycberspace. It goes to highlight the potentials and massive scope for further creative expression in the Metaverse of tomorrow.
Larger than life
When we think of the number of users already living online in the gaming realm, including the duration of their daily use as well as the interconnected social sphere of their friendships within the game world, and the ability to be totally cross-platform, it really shows the enormity of the cyberworld already being lived in today. Players can choose their identities at will, with skins, masks and accessories that allow a totally alternate persona to manifest, according to ones desires and ones budget, although the basics are entirely free to begin with. What we see emerging will be a combination of the real, the non-real and the unreal converged as one, where boundaries of reality blur seamlessly into each other.
Metaverse as metaphor
When I contemplate all of this, I can’t help but see the close analogy between the gamer living within the virtual world in his virtual skin on the one hand, and the eternally conscious soul living in the material world in his or her temporary material body on the other. The similarities are simply too close to ignore. It’s a perennial theme made famous in the much-loved modern movie classic The Matrix. Are we living entities existing in an illusory virtual reality totally devoid of authenticity while our real selves reside in another dimension altogether? The theme of the cult classic resonated so profoundly in the zeitgeist of society because it obviously struck a chord or rang true.
The roots of the Metaverse as Matrix
I say this because there is reference to the very same philosophical concept found in the ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts of India, written down over 5000 years ago. This perennial philosophy describes our reality to be like the Metaverse emerging in cyberspace around us today – an augmented virtual reality that feels more real than ever in which we can immerse ourselves and interact for a lifetime without the thought of an identity beyond it.
For example in one of the Vedic volumes called Bhagavat Purana a verse says:
यन्निर्मितां कर्ह्यपि कर्मपर्वणीं मायां जनोऽयं गुणसर्गमोहितः
न वेद निस्तारणयोगमञ्जसा तस्मै नमस्ते विलयोदयात्मने ॥ ५.१७.२४ ॥
yan-nirmitāṁ karhy api karma-parvaṇīṁ
māyāṁ jano ’yaṁ guṇa-sarga-mohitaḥ
na veda nistāraṇa-yogam añjasā
tasmai namas te vilayodayātmane
“The illusory energy of the Supreme Personality binds all of us conditioned souls to this material world. Therefore, without being favored by Him, persons like us cannot understand how to get out of that illusory energy. Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Lord, who is the cause of creation and annihilation.”
Srimad Bhagavat Purana 5:17:24 Translated by Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Here we immediately see the reference to firstly the fact that the material world is illusory, secondly that the souls within it are conditioned to see it as real and not illusory, and thirdly that we cannot easily get out of or transcend the illusory perception without some guidance or favor from the original designer and controller of the illusory virtual world.
The Matrix Reloaded
In the movie The Matrix, the creator and destroyer of the illusory virtual world is known as the Architect, ironically echoing the label used by that old group of controllers behind the scenes called the Freemasons by some and The Illuminati by others. Masonry is after all a department of architecture. Similarly when building a virtual game world in cyberspace, the software engineer could be seen as the architect of that game world. In the archaic language of the Vedic texts the translator here uses the label “Supreme Lord” to describe the engineer of the illusory space we inhabit in life. The actual Sanskrit term – or at least one of them - to describe the architect, would be the word “Purusha” meaning controller, or original source.
Sanskrit semantics of karma
In the actual verse above the Sanskrit phrase in the first line is “karma-parvaṇīṁ”. We have all heard of the term karma. Here the term literally translates as “which ties with the knots of fruitive activity”. In other words we the eternal living entities are bound by the knots of our materially motivated actions to the illusory avatar of the body, mind and ego, unable to wake up from the dream or illusion we find ourselves in, translated as “maya” in the second line of the verse. And the process of awakening or getting out of the clutches of the illusion is by “yoga” in line three, involving the acknowledgement of a higher creator/controller in the mood of respect, in line four.
The avatar is not the territory
It’s like a gamer getting attached to his or her avatar and the objects and power they have acquired in the Metaverse or game platform. If we stay immersed for long enough, we may forget the real body and personality back at home on the sofa. Apparently we were in a perfectly fulfilled world as a soul but we wished to exercise our free will and experience the attractions of the temporary illusory realm in the same way that a gamer wishes to experience another level of existence, out of curiosity, or the desire to be more of a controller themselves, as opposed being under the control of a superior power. Once here in the Metaverse, we quickly forget or become covered by the bewildering illusion of the virtual space, until such a time as we feel it to be limiting, perhaps painful, or incomplete compared to what we once intuitively knew and had.
Will the real you please step forward
The analogy is only a comparison, but is seems to have some validity, from what I’ve been able to make out in the Sanskrit texts. The translator writes in his commentary on the verse:
“All conditioned souls working within the illusory energy of the original source consider the body to be the self, and thus they continuously wander throughout the universe, taking birth in different species of life and creating more and more problems. Sometimes they become disgusted with the problems and seek out a process by which they can get out of this entanglement.”
Substitute the word “universe” for “metaverse” in the above quote and you have the analogy in a nutshell. The soul or original self is covered by the illusory body or avatar, made up of gross physical body, as well as subtle mind, intelligence and ego, according to the Sanskrit literature. So it’s about dis-identifying with the external body and mind, and through the practice of yoga and meditation techniques, reviving the remembrance of our original selves. The translator continues in his purport:
“The living entity is seated on a machine (the body), and according to the order of the Supreme Lord, he operates the machine. This is the secret of transmigration of the soul from one body to another. The living entity thus becomes entangled in fruitive activities in this material world.”
A Fortnite that lasts a lifetime
In Fortnite, for example, the gamer controls his or her avatar until they are killed in battle, and then simply takes on another avatar, based on the level and accessories attained up until then. At some point though, the original person tires of the game and something urges them to return to waking life, real life, the original identity. This is only really possible once one is firstly able to tire of “chewing the chewed”, and is prodded by enough discomfort within the constraints of the avatar to want to experience the less limited real faculties once more. And secondly it is further facilitated by an acknowledgement of a higher power, a higher force, a source, the original “causeless cause of all causes” and a willingness to feel oneself a recipient of grace, for want of a better word, from the higher source.
We all want to be little controllers
As an independent ego we often feel like the controller and pride ourselves in being a sovereign entity in our own right, subservient to none. But with advanced age and the deterioration of the physical form, one is eventually humbled to come down from the egocentric platform of pride and apparent invincibility. For those who don’t surrender early to the Force, the Force comes to them as Death and obliges us all to let go and surrender. Therefore the suggestion in the Vedic texts is that we prepare for transcendence while we are in our full faculties already, so that we can be better prepared when the time comes and our mind and body are rapidly failing us.
The conclusion is that we should avoid getting addicted to the game. Remember that there is the original life back in the real world, and focus on that while simultaneously operating within the game avatar space. At some point in the “battle royale” setting of Fortnite and the Metaverse, we are all going to die, so always be aware of that. For the real self this temporary limiting material body is no comparison to our actual self back home and once we tap into that once more, the illusion can never quite cover us or bewilder us quite as much anymore. That’s the perennial philosophy behind it and it certainly adds an interesting perspective to the daily existence we find ourselves in here in the Metaverse called planet earth.