The most polarizing sci-fi movie on HBO Max exposes the limits of a major tech trend

Earlier this fallthe movie Don’t worry dear made headlines amid controversy over behind-the-scenes feuds among cast members.

But as it turns out, the film’s sci-fi plot twist may prove more controversial than the off-screen drama in the long run. Spoilers ahead Don’t worry dear.

Don’t worry dear it looks like a simple story about a 1950s suburban paradise, with housewife Alice and her husband Jack, who works for a mysterious defense program known as “the Victory Project”.

But Alice suspects that the enigmatic leader of the Victory Project, Frank, may be hiding something serious. Two-thirds of the way through the film, it becomes clear that Alice’s suspicions are correct. Her entire existence in the suburban town of Victory, California, is an elaborate lie, concocted by an elaborate virtual reality project that erased her memories of her real world.

In real life, Alice is a doctor who works long, grueling hours, much to the chagrin of her husband, Jack. Meanwhile, Jack is actually Alice’s unemployed husband, who has been initiated into misogynistic men’s rights ideology after hearing speeches from Frank – a fictionalized version of controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson.

Jack, along with the other Victory Project husbands, has drugged his wife and placed her in a hyper-realistic virtual reality simulation. She claims it’s for her own good, as she thinks she was miserable for working so much – an assumption Alice vehemently denies when she learns the truth.

Many reviews focused on the feminist themes in the film’s shocking plot, but here’s what we want to know: Don’t worry dearhis case actually reasonable? Could we all soon be trapped in a hyper-realistic virtual reality version of the Metaverse?

Elizabeth Kensinger, a psychology professor at Boston College who studies memory retrieval, says Inverse that “it is conceivable that there could be technology that could allow the brain to create entire worlds.”

Reel Science it is one Inverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and TV.

Is Metaverse possible?

Starring Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles). Don’t worry deara virtual reality story gone horribly wrong.Warner Bros. Pictures

Tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg have suggested that the future of social media will be through the Metaverse – virtual reality simulations where you can interact with others in computer-generated programs.

But could someone create a computer simulation with sensory experiences so realistic that they trick our brains into believing the fake world is real? Maybe, say some experts.

“…our perception of the world is simply a creation of our brain.”

Kensinger says so Don’t worry dearHis case touches on a very human problem: the distinction between imagined memories and lived experiences. If you’ve ever thought you locked your door only to come home to find it unlocked, then you probably understand this concept.

“Tracking reality is difficult because there is a lot of similarity between how the brain works perceives the real world and how the brain he imagines mentally created worlds,” says Kensinger.

And he adds, “though it’s eerie to think of it this way, our perception of the world is just a creation of our brain.”

We usually use cues to tell us what’s real and what’s not — for example, you know you were only dreaming and not actually on a tropical beach vacation this morning because you’re sitting in your cabin eating lunch. But if you strip away these plausible cues, then Kensinger says we’re likely to confuse the real world—the one in which we act—and the virtual world.

“It is conceivable that future technology could allow one to enter a dream state to navigate an alternate reality that would be experienced as if it were real,” Kensinger concludes.

Futurist Andrew Curry says that permanent life in the Metaverse would be difficult due to the body’s metabolic needs, although Don’t worry dear, it is implied that Jack takes care of Alice’s biological needs, such as feeding. Curry says it would take a very immersive experience to make people want to connect to the virtual reality of the film, as we would retain some awareness of our true selves even in virtual reality.

The trailer for Don’t worry dear.

“You’d have to suppress their physical experience of the world, or make the virtual reality experience so compelling — maybe the digital version of psilocybin — that they just kept going,” Curry says.

But Gualtiero Piccinini, associate director of the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis says Inverse he he is skeptical for several reasons. For example, while the characters in Do not worry darling you feel pain and eat and smell just as we do in the real world, says Piccinini “neither tastes nor smells can be simulated using ordinary computer simulations.”

“I don’t see how we can achieve a hyper-reality that is indistinguishable from the real world,” Piccinini adds.

Could you wipe someone’s memories and trap them in the Metaverse?

In Don’t worry dearFrank (Chris Pine) has created an elaborate computer program that allows husbands to trap their wives in virtual reality.Warner Bros. Pictures

The plot of the film only works because Jack traps Alice in the simulated reality and the computer program effectively erases her real memories while she is in the simulation.

“Amnesia is a real thing, and there are recent experimental methods that have succeeded in implanting and erasing simple memories in rats,” says Piccinini.

But other experts do not think that the plan of this film is so realistic

“I think we’re a long way from being able to erase people’s memories,” Kensinger says.

That said, Kensinger says the mind can resurface forgotten details from the back of our minds — like childhood acquaintances — to the fore. Likewise, it’s not unlikely that an alternate reality can become so front-of-mind that your brain temporarily believes it to be real.

“I think it’s common to focus on what’s in front of us and not think about other things that we know to be true,” Kensinger explains.

Peter Curry — who is also Andrew’s son — is a recent graduate of a master’s degree in neuroscience at Birbeck College, University of London. Says Inverse that “people can have incidents where they lose all of their narrative memory structures, so the idea that memory cannot be replaced is not entirely true,” although it is debatable to what extent memory can be erased.

After all, Peter Curry says that “people could probably fall into the Metaverse.” In fact, what Frank has done Don’t worry dear is to create an illusion that tricks the brain’s mechanisms for inference—the process of making guesses about the world using evidence and reasoning. But he says it would be difficult to maintain that illusion forever, as the film shows when Alice begins to suspect something is wrong with the town of Victory.

“In short, we currently do not have sufficient technology to fool the brain’s high-level inference mechanisms for long periods of time,” says Peter Curry.

What is the difference between our “fake” lives and our real lives?

Can we completely blur the lines between our virtual and real selves? It’s complicated, experts say.Shutterstock

Don’t worry dear blurs the line between fiction and reality. At the end of the film, Alice regains memories of her real life and immediately rejects her imaginary housewife life. But her friend, Bunny, takes an alternative approach.

Unlike the other wives, Bunny has always known that her existence in the suburb of Victory isn’t technically real, but she makes herself believe it is – because a virtual reality with her imaginary children is better than a real world in which they are dead.

As Bunny tells Alice: “They are real to me, Alice, because, here, my children are alive.”

“Our identity, how we interact with others, and the decisions we make every day are influenced by what we remember to be true about our past, whether those memories are accurate or not,” says Kensinger.

As the Metaverse becomes less hypothetical and more reality, we’re likely to worry about the blurring of our fictional VR personalities and our memories of the real world. How can we tell what is fake and what is real?

Piccinini argues that if you can actually develop yourself in simulated reality, despite the current limitations of virtual reality, “then that’s the one and only self you have.”

It’s a creepy idea Don’t worry dear effectively drills the house.

Don’t worry dear now streaming on HBO Max.

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