Remember when you were really young and you played “let’s pretend”? What was it you pretended? Soldiers? Superheroes? Princesses?
The thing about “let’s pretend” is that it determines beliefs and actions. If you are a soldier defending your house/country/ friends/the Earth against various “baddies” then it is clear what you must do and what you must believe. You have to fight and run and hide and jump out and set traps and act fearlessly! You have to believe that everyone on YOUR side is good and everyone you are fighting against needs to be shot without question. You have to award yourself the qualities of bravery and cunning and resilience in order to fulfil your mission.
If you are a princess, taking tea with her ladies in waiting, discussing the handsome prince who hopes to win your heart, again actions (playing hard to get, discussing the suitors’ high points, dressing in your finest clothes and putting on Mummy’s makeup), beliefs (you are beautiful, he is the most handsome wonderful prince around, dreams come true) and qualities (a pure loving heart, romantic nature, graciousness and gracefulness) are all determined by your role and the recordings you can run of how that might work.
Your ladies in waiting might be teddy bears or dolls. Your machine gun might be a stick. All that is forgotten after a minute or two as you immerse yourself in the role.
Some people, some educators for example, would say “Playing let’s pretend is a great rehearsal for children to learn how to be ready for the real world”. What if it’s the other way around? What if it’s the ones who know it’s a game who are in the real world?
What happens to that playful child, building their castles and knocking them down in a trice, ready for the next role? What happened is that later in life, after some intermediate stages of the game where lots of people told you about a finite universe “out there”, you went to the ultimate. You called yourself a doctor or a lawyer or a stay-at-home-mum or a scientist, and you got so many props and you played the part so convincingly that other people went along with it. The wind changed, and you got stuck there, unable to pull down the castles because you forgot how.
That damned game got SO powerful. The one playing the doctor part can convince people that they are ill or well and actually affect their health by sodoing. The soldier has people so convinced that he is given a real gun now. As long as he plays the rules of the game (according to whose game it is) he can decide who lives and who dies. The economist, the scientist, the husband or wife… so deeply immersed in the role, in the game.
Strip a person naked. Look at them. Smell them. Listen to their breathing. Feel the shape of their muscles and skeleton and flesh. Look into their eyes, into their hearts. Can you tell what role they play? What labels they give themselves? Which is a nurse and which a teacher?
What age were you when you started forgetting about how you can dive in and out of roles? When the nets you cast for sense data evidence got restricted by the role? Was it the same time that going to the corner shop stopped being an adventure, a riot of visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and other information, as it was when you were in your pushchair?
Imagine a war zone, and there is a woman or man playing the soldier game. Actions, beliefs and qualities all part of the game. Now whisk them out of there, give them a new hat – charity worker, negotiator, farmer, priest, doctor – and put them back in the same situation, the same place. What will happen?
Isn’t it fun, when you realise that even the Prime Minister or President are playing “let’s pretend”? Isn’t it great to know that you can get a whole new set of mission directives, actions qualities and beliefs when you change hats?
Here your Neo-Cortex might be saying something like: “Hang on there Patrick. To be a Doctor or a Lawyer or a Soldier you need specific training! We are not playing games here.”
Ok. So imagine you are going to play one of those Lord of The Rings inspired fantasy role-playing games, and you are going to be Thrubbit the Dwarf, and there is an A4-size card to read telling you about your character and his/her (not sure if Thrubbit is a boy or girl dwarf, have to check that card) special abilities, skills etc.. So now imagine it is a double-sided A4 sheet. So now tell me: how long would the character card need to be for you to decide it was real life and not a game?
[An edited excerpt from my forthcoming book “Your Life Does Not Exist”]