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The Hamlet Experiment

In my previous post, I introduced the concept of 'the matrix'. Here's a musing about how such a situation might actually come into existence. For entertainment purposes only, of course.

Imagine a dedicated theater group who meet every day to practice their play. They make long hours for weeks. Besides character descriptions, there isn’t really a script. What this group is going to perform, is an ongoing play of the life of these characters.

It is a big hit. Tickets are continuously sold out and many live-stream subscriptions are sold. It’s like a Big Brother TV show, but with more interesting characters, who gradually seem to be losing their awareness of audience and their acting.

In acting, there is a style called “method acting”, where actors immerse themselves in the role of the character. The end goal is to think and feel like the character. It is more a becoming of Hamlet than acting like Hamlet, which is why some purists dismiss it. Yet, it is amazing to watch, as it leads to the most convincing performances.

There are various reports of actors who lost their sense of self during the recording of a movie where they applied method acting to their performance. They struggled to delineate between what was the character and what was authentic.

Something similar seems to be happening with this play-of-life theater group. They are becoming their characters. As a countermeasure, the producers decide to introduce a new character who is to draw out the others gradually to the streets. Partly to have them wake up from their bounded reality, but (of course) also for the financial opportunities it creates.

While the first introduction creates a bit of a disturbance in the group, things soon normalize and unfortunately the new group member is assimilated in the stage act. She forgets about her assignment and becomes part of the problem. A second actor is more successful and manages to expand the play to the streets.

When the first member of the theater group is exposed to the outside world again, the general public is excited and can’t constrain their enthusiasm to approach the actor. Since everything is live-streamed, many see it as an opportunity for a moment of fame. It confuses the actor almost to the point where he breaks out of character.

The producers decide to create an incentive for each member of the general public to keep the play going instead of interrupting it. They announce a scouting program. On the show’s website, dozens of potential roles are published, available for anyone interested in becoming part of the play.

Soon, the behavior around actors from the stage play who go in public normalizes, as each of the roles is crafted and financially incentivized to protect the mental frame among everyone involved that the play is real.

Like with talent shows, a lot of honest-yet-terrible acting has to be endured before the real talent emerges. But once it does, it seems to form itself as a protective layer around the core group.

Because of the success, the producers publish more roles and a new wave of aspiring actors tries out. This time, mainly by interacting with those in the first layer around the core group, who have all been carrying video and audio recording devices from the start (with the live streams generating them income).

New layers are formed. Actors cross layers. Some layers blend heavily. In short, the whole thing grows out of hand. Thousands and thousands become so immersed in the acting, that they forget about being engaged in a play. On the other side of the fence, millions have become immersed in watching live streams of their favorite actors, as they seem to be having much more interesting lives than they do.

Within a year, the entire island where the stage play originally took off, is overtaken with immersed actors. Their belief in the realness of the play has become so real, that anyone who tries to lift the veal, is aggressively removed from the island and soon mainland authorities decide to isolate the island.

Peace returns in the island community of actors. Their interesting lives continue as do the broadcasts. There is some drama from the design of the characters, but at the end of the day, peace always returns. It almost runs like a clockwork.

Among the community, some of the members seem to notice such patterns. When they bring it up, they meet resistance, so they learn to keep it to themselves. Secretly, they start to scan for more patterns and philosophize about their meaning.

These curious individuals also notice some frustrations among some of their fellow actors. It’s as if they behave differently from how they are naturally inclined to do. They wonder if it might explain why sometimes individuals have sudden bursts of ‘out-of-character’ behavior.

One day, one of the core group actors decides to act upon the impulse to retreat from social life for a few days and let his mind take him where it wants. At first, this seems to be more chaotic than being among a group of people, but after a while, a peaceful silence emerges inside.

In this inner peaceful silence, memories emerge of a theater group, a character description and a real-life stage play concept. A burst of uncontrollable laughter follows, realizing what has been and is going on! Sadness follows, after also realizing which nice things have not been real. Nonetheless, he switches off his camera and microphone.

The now-former actor returns home. He tries to explain to his spouse what he realized, but she thinks he lost his mind. The next day, he goes to work and makes an announcement that it’s all a grand stage play and that each person is unknowingly hypnotizing himself and each other into buying into it. As a result, he gets the day off to regain his senses. At night, he meets with his friends at the bar. When he starts with telling them what he realized, he soon notices that – maybe except for one friend – nobody is interested in such a ‘serious’ topic and he lets the subject be changed. He orders a drink, plays along and has a good time, while being the only one experiencing things just as the stage play it actually is. While always having been the brainiac of the group, he gradually becomes the jester.

After getting used to it, he lived happily ever after.

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