I'm a big fan of getting my cosmic inspiration from the comic pages and Comedy Central. This week has been a bonanza in that regard.
Here's what today's Pearls Before Swine had to say about the meaning of existence. In three panels, it nicely encapsulated the human condition. (click to enlarge)
Even more profound was the most recent South Park episode, "Grounded Vindaloop." It blew my mind, and I wasn't even under the influence of any psychoactive or hallucinogenic substances.
If you watch the episode after taking LSD, I predict that instant enlightenment will be yours. Or insanity. Or both.
Thankfully, since spending twenty-some minutes watching "Grounded Vindaloop" will tell you much more about the nature of reality than any religious book, the episode can be viewed on Hulu for free. And currently there is a You Tube video of the episode.
Enjoy. While it lasts.
There's already a detailed description of the episode on Wikipedia, but naturally it doesn't capture the full existential, paradoxical, and The Matrix'ish flavor of "Grounded Vindaloop." Read it if you must, though.
The episode starts off with Cartman fooling Butters that he is wearing an actual virtual reality (VR) device, Oculus. Which is a real product, slated to be sold in 2015. I'm excited about it, having just watched a You Tube video of a 90 year old grandmother trying out a pre-production Oculus.
I found lots of philosophical profundity in "Grounded Vindaloop." Along with mindless humor, a nice blend.
Right off the bat, Cartman's assurances to Butters that he was experiencing a virtual reality-enhanced world, even though Butters was just looking through fake goggles and listening to Cartman over a headset, struck me as a metaphor for how religions do much the same:
Make people think they are experiencing another dimension of reality, whereas actually they are living in the same world they always were -- along with the rest of us.
Butters is astounded at what he sees: "My hands!" Yeah, Butters, they look so real because they are real. You've just been fooled by Cartman into believing that the fake goggles give you a heightened perspective.
"Grounded Vindaloop" really gets rolling when the calls start coming from Oculus customer support, who naturally is an Indian guy, "Steve." Soon we are completely confused about what is real reality, and what is virtual reality.
The episode puts The Matrix to shame, having more illusion within illusion loops. Is what's happening a dream? Or could it be a dream within a dream? Or maybe the real world that just seems to be a dream? Or something else entirely?
Steve plays a central role in all this.
I loved how Steve comes to need customer support himself and ends up talking to a version of himself (or maybe it was himself; couldn't tell). This scene fulfils the fantasy of everybody who ends up calling customer support and getting a pleasant guy or gal with an Indian accent who asks, "Have I answered all of your questions and provided good customer service?"
I was curious how the South Park writers would get out of the looping paradoxes and bring the episode to a satisfying conclusion. Pleasingly, Steve's oft-repeated question above was the key. All the South Park guys needed to do was say "Yes."
Make sense? No. Which is why this was a wonderfully fitting way to resolve the episode. One disgruntled reviewer of the episode said:
I have no idea what actually “happened” in “Grounded Vindaloop.”
Well, duh, dude. His next sentence was right-on, though.
I don’t think I’m supposed to.
Just like life, man. Just like life. Get used to it.