"Read your article about the mind blowing academic theories, and I feel like I'm trapped in the Allegory of the Cave scenario. I don't know how, but I know that there are greater things than life on this planet. But everyone else seems to live according to the rules which are established and can't wrap their minds about bigger things than wealth and power. )(Such as other dimensions and living in harmony). How did you come up with this article?"
Asked by Anonymous
Well, first of all, I’m sorry about your existential crisis. I guess the good news is that one day, one way or another, it’ll resolve itself. Either you’ll be dead and not care anymore or proven right or wrong by huge leaps in science, right?
I came up with the article because I was thinking about sci-fi stories that are based almost directly on philosophical thought experiments. The original Star Trek had some of this going on, since it was pretty heady stuff. But sci-fi in general lends itself to thought experiments because the author can play with the rules of physics and the like and try to demonstrate exactly how, for example, a brain in a vat experiment might play out. (The Matrix is basically exactly that.)
The editors at Cracked (editor-in-chief Jack O’Brien especially) helped me narrow it down to less hypothetical thought experiments (like brain in a vat or Laplace’s Demon) and focus more on human behavioral experiments, like the Prisoner’s Dilemma (though we did still slide Quantum Immortality and the Ship of Theseus in there).
It also became clearer that those kinds of thought experiments weren’t necessarily limited to just science fiction, but recurred throughout fiction, so it became easier to spot them in all kinds of media. (We went with movies, specifically, because movie articles are far more popular than literature ones.)
So, it was a slow process of finding the right kinds of thought experiments and the movies that best represented them. In fact, it took two years to finally get it published. It was easily my most difficult piece to date.