Commander Chakotay: “I know this is a dream – my dream. I’m in control.”
Dream Alien: “You’re mistaken.”
Chakotay: “Am I?”
Dream Alien: “This is more than a dream. It’s my reality. And you’re no different than the others.”
Chakotay: “The others?”
Dream Alien: “The waking species. For centuries, you’ve come and found us in a state that you call ‘sleep’ and tried to destroy us, but not anymore. Now we are in control. One by one, you will fall asleep and enter our reality, where it is you who will be destroyed.”
(Star Trek: Voyager s04e13 – “Waking Moments”)
In December of last year I’d briefly explored the idea of what I came to term “Dream State Sentience” (DSS). This was a thought construct I developed when I was much younger, but merely thought of it as a fantasy rather than a possible future scenario. Not until recently had I considered such a scenario plausible, recognizing the growing scientific research and developments on mind uploading, memory design, and dream extraction.
Consider this scenario: We’re a few decades into the future and new fields of scientific research have become far more efficient – mind uploading and dream engineering. With mind uploading, scientists have developed a way to not only access your entire brain’s synaptic “software” but also upload downloaded copies into an artificial brain or implant. Dream engineering wouldn’t be that much different – dreams would be included in what’s downloaded from the brain – but it would also include the ability to engineer new dreams and upload them back into the brain or, again, an implant.
For mind uploading to be effective researchers would have to first reverse-engineer the brain, thus successfully develop an artificial brain. This artificial brain would acquire everything a biological brain acquires, which would subsequently include consciousness. Without consciousness – self-awareness – to be uploaded into an artificial brain or implant would be pointless, seeing as how you’d no longer be aware of yourself being alive – you would no longer be a sentient life form. (To understand how mind uploading could hypothetically work, click here.)
Then comes along dream engineering. Again, it would be part of the process of mind uploading. However, dream engineering would become a popular market in itself, seeing as how I’m fairly sure a lot of people would want to be in control of their own dreams, or at the very least choose which dreams they’d prefer having.
Understand, by now, the concepts of dreams, consciousness, and all other brain matter would no longer be considered mere chemical reactions in the brain – they’d become programs, that can be encoded however each individual sees fit. Realizing this, who’s then to say that it would be impossible to code a separate sentient being within an engineered dream? It would essentially be no different from coding other functions within your dream, which includes certain people you may wish to dream about – family, friends, a lover, a historical figure, etc. etc.
I’m now at a point where I no longer question if DSS will occur, but rather what the implications may be when it does occur. As shown in the Star Trek scenario, Chakotay and his crew members are being held hostage and threatened by a group of aliens who live inside the dream world. This is no different from DSS, seeing as how the scenario involved the aliens using technology to transfer their consciousness into a separate dream state body. Whenever foreign aliens came near the Dream Aliens’ vicinity and fell asleep, they were essentially invading their reality – thus they took action against them.
Who’s to say that DSS won’t result in something similar? Wouldn’t the dream world be their world? Would our dictating how a dream operates while a DSS being lived inside be equivalent to slavery? Would it be unethical of us to even attempt to engineer a DSS being? What if the engineering of a DSS was by accident – would we then be in the right to destroy this self-aware being in the name of ethics, or would it also be unethical of us to do any harm to it? At what cost?