I visited the sci-fi museum in Seattle this weekend, and was reminded of how sci-fi is an especially fertile ground for examples of and analogies to what is explored in psychology and spirituality. There are probably books out there exploring that theme, and if there isn’t, it is waiting to happen.
Some topics and examples that come to mind…
- Who am I? The Tuvix episode of Star Trek Voyager is especially interesting here. Two individuals, Tuvok and Neelix, are combined into one in a transporter accident. So what is happening here? What is individuality? If I am first this human self, and then a different human self, what happened to the first one? Who is here now? If we take ourselves to be content of awareness in general, and this human self in particular, it becomes an almost impossible conundrum. But if we find ourselves as awareness, as this awake void, which is both the seeing and the seen, both the awareness of form and the forms themselves, the questions fall away. The content of awareness is always in flux anyway, so this is no different. First, one particular human self arises in awareness along with everything else, then another human self. And that is how it already is anyway. Whatever arises is always new, different, fresh. And there is no inherent I with an Other in there anywhere.
- Sentience. What is the difference between advanced robots or holograms and humans? Are they alive? Conscious? Sentient? Again, if we take ourselves to be content of awareness, the question is almost impossible to answer to our satisfaction (which is why it is such fertile ground for so many stories). But if we realize we are awareness, we realize that there isn’t really such a difference. There is awake awareness and then phenomena arising within, to and as this awareness, and these phenomena may be a human self or a robot or a hologram or a cloud or whatever else. In any case, there is no inherent separate self in any of it. In that sense, it is all equal. Of course, this doesn’t quite solve the question at a conventional level, because here, there is still a difference between a biological lifeform, robots and holograms. The question helps us find ourselves as awareness and all phenomena as awareness itself, and it also leaves a great deal of room for different views on a conventional level.
- Time travel. It is the nature of our thoughts to move freely between (what appears as) past, future, and present, so why shouldn’t we be able to do so physically as well? But when we look more closely at what is happening, we see that any thought is about the past (thoughts about what appears as the present always lags a little behind perception, and thoughts about the future have only the past as their source.) And we also see that thoughts, along with all other content of awareness, arises here and now, within this timeless present. All there is, is this awake timeless present within which all phenomena arises, always new, fresh and different, including any thoughts about past, future and present. The past and future exists only within a thought. So we see that time travel is already happening, whenever attention goes to the content of a thought. We see that the past and future only appears in the content of thoughts, and these thoughts arise within this timeless present. And seeing this, the desire and any perceived need for time travel falls away, and the whole idea of time travel is seen as only that, an idea. The appearance of possibility of time travel itself can only arise when we believe in thoughts, making past and future appear substantial and real.
- Parallel worlds. If we pay attention, we notice that there are innumerable parallel worlds right here, and as attention goes into one after another, we live in a succession of them. There is what is alive in immediate perception, here and now. And mimicking these sense fields (vision, sound, sensations, taste, smell) our thoughts create a wide range of worlds parallel to perceptions. Sometimes, when attention is wrapped up in thought, we are absorbed into these parallel worlds, while the world of perceptions goes on on its own. Other times, we are aware of both, one besides the other. And sometimes, attention goes to what is alive in immediate perceptions, and a thought is recognized as just a thought.
- False memories. False memories, and various degrees of false identity based on those memories, is a common theme in science fiction, from Star Trek to the Matrix to Blade Runner. When we look here now, we see that any memory and any identity is just a thought arising here and now. That is all it is. Ephemeral, insubstantial, transparent, arising within this awake timeless now. Different thoughts give rise to different memories and identities. It is always changing anyway, whether subtly or dramatically. It is a precarious situation. But in the midst of thoughts and identities changing, something does not change. What is that? We may find that there is an awakeness here that does not change, even as its content changes. And that this content, whatever arises here now, is this awakeness itself. Finding ourselves as this awakeness gives a freedom to allowing content to change, to live its own life, on its own schedule, as it does anyway.
- Appearance of solidity. The holodeck in Star Trek (I have watched mostly ST lately!) is an example of how a very vivid reality can be created by something as insubstantial as photons and force fields. In the same way, we take something as insubstantial and ephemeral as sensations, sights, sounds, tastes/smells, and thoughts, and create a very vivid and apparently substantial reality for ourselves. But as soon as we notice this, and how the gestalts are created by conglomerates of perception and thoughts, it again is revealed as insubstantial and ephemeral. The matrix, in The Matrix, is another example of how the rules change when we see it for what it is, and get intimately familiar with the mechanisms of samsara. There is a freedom from being blindly caught up in the gestalts and the appearances created by the gestalts.
- Center of gravity. Some stories exemplify the difference between having the center of gravity in our human self, or at the soul level or Ground. What we find ourselves as, in immediate awareness and outside of stories, determines how we experience and filter what is. For instance, the Star Trek TOS episode Errand of Mercy shows the difference between finding oneself as this human self (fear, contraction, drama, struggle) and as soul (as alive timeless presence, and absence of or greatly reduced fear, drama, struggle). It is quite caricatured, but still gets the basic difference across.
- Processing. A part of the path is processing of unresolved issues and memories. They surface, and we have a chance of relating to them in another way, allowing them to resolve. In Tarkovsky’s Solaris, an ocean planet brings to life whatever (or whomever) we have an unresolved relationship with, inviting us to resolve it. If we identify with resistance, as many in the movie do, there is drama and despair. But we can also take it as an opportunity to resolve the relationship, as the main character does. In real life, this process includes being with whatever emotions comes up, inquiries into the beliefs around the situation, and also heal and resolve our relationships in daily life.
- Duality. In The Matrix, Neo and Agent Smith are reversals of each other, and in their final encounter, annihilate each other. This is also what happens when we explore beliefs. First, a story seems true and good and its reversals appear false or not-so-good. Then, when they are more thoroughly investigated and wrestled with, we see the truth in the reversal and both as only relative truths, so the whole appearance of a split and duality falls away. And this, as in the Matrix, allows the world to start anew, this time without (or even with) a belief in stories. The experience is of a struggle (sometimes), and then a falling away of duality, although all that really happens is that we see what is already more true for us. We see the stories as just stories, each with their own limited, practical and relative truth, and what is as inherently free from both, although available to be filtered through either or both.
- Big Mind. Many sci-fi movies is an invitation to shift into Big Mind… for instance through the cosmic scope of the stories (cosmos as a stage which includes and goes beyond all polarities), and the sheer intensity of what is happening. For me, Contact is a movie which does this, through its opening into a larger whole far beyond what we are normally familiar with.
- Awakenings. Some sci-fi stories are about awakenings. We take life as it appears to us as real, and do not question it. And then something happens which reveals it differently from the way it appeared to us, and opens up a larger and different world to us. Matrix is one example, the Truman Show another.
- Meditation. The Vulcan meditation is an example of the art of resistance, and this has a tendency to break down as many Star Trek stories show. “Real” meditation is a disidentification with content of awareness, including resistance, so there is an allowing of what is. This allows what is to reveal itself without the filter of (identified with) resistance, including the stream of quiet bliss that seems inherent in awareness and experiencing, and emotions as a sweet fullness. And it allows Ground to more easily notice itself, since it is less clouded up by the dust kicked up by resistance.
Then the ones shared by any stories, sci-fi or not…
- Mirror. Whatever we see in the wider world, including in any story, is a mirror of what is right here, in several ways. The qualities we see in the wider world are qualities we recognize because they are right here, in this human self. What is, as it appears to us, is filtered through our stories about it, so what we see out there (our stories about the world) is a mirror of our own stories. And as Big Mind, what arises is this I without an Other.
- Shadow. A subarea of the wider world as a mirror is the shadow. We take stories as true, so their reversals are in the shadow. And we identify with particular identities (formed by beliefs), and these too have shadows. Whatever arises that trigger aversion and dislike in us tends to point to our shadow, and sci-fi stories are not short on these. Alien is a good example here, where the adversary is a completely dehumanized monster. Watching these movies is a good opportunity to see what happens when our shadow is triggered, how it tends to lead to dehumanization of the shadow object, an opportunity to find in ourselves what we see out there, and when empathy comes up through recognition, also explore how we would have dealt with the situation in the movie from this new space. It may even be that our actions would be quite similar, but our experience of it quite different (empathy rather than fear and reactiveness).