Peace and Tech: Part 2
The Dreamworlds of Hypnos
Humanity has unlocked five technological powers that people in the ancient world seemed to think only gods could possess.
For humanity to make sustainable progress toward peace, justice, survival, and prosperity in the twenty-first century, our five god-like technological powers must be recognized as critically important peace issues.
Metaphors from Greek Mythology show how the ongoing escalation of these technological powers requires an even greater escalation of our Peace Literacy.
Image from HTC
At their most basic level, Virtual Reality/VR and Augmented Reality/AR (collectively known as Extended Reality/XR) are interconnected technologies that give us the ability to sculpt light.
VR/AR allows us to surround ourselves with this sculpted light, and to sculpt our faces and bodies out of this light.
Sculpting light through VR/AR can be seen as an inevitable consequence of the human journey that began long ago.
As early humans sat around campfires, they would tell stories and use their imaginations to explore other worlds, such as the world as they thought it existed long ago, the worlds of fables and folk-tales that express allegorical moral instruction, and worlds that enabled them to ponder the immense potential of our outer world, along with the immense potential of our inner world.
After telling stories around fires for countless generations, humans then used their imaginations to explore others worlds through books, plays, paintings, films, television shows, video games, and other art forms.
Art by Pawel Kuczynski
VR/AR, which allows us to become embodied in the worlds created by our imagination, can be seen as a natural consequence of humanity’s yearning to explore other worlds, while the power that VR/AR gives us can be seen as god-like.
Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep and dreams, can be considered the most powerful deity in Greek mythology.
In the Iliad, Hera calls him “the master of all gods and mortal men.” Hypnos can put Zeus, the king of the gods, to sleep.
Of the five god-like technological powers that Peace Literacy describes as major peace issues in the twenty-first century, VR/AR (symbolized by Hypnos) will arguably be the most powerful.
Hypnos has three primary children, who are described by the ancient poets Homer and Ovid as winged dream deities. The first is Morpheus, who can take the shape of any human form. Morpheus is the basis of words such as “morph,” “metamorphosis,” and “morphine” (because people associated this drug with sleep and dreams).
The second is Phobetor, who can take the shape of any animal or monster. Phobetor is related to the word “phobia,” because Phobetor can take the shape of terrifying monsters.
The third is Phantasos, who can take the shape of any landscape, plant, or inanimate object. Phantasos is the basis of the word “fantasy.”
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) give us the god-like power of Hypnos – the ability to create and be embodied in vast digital spaces that resemble the vast dreamworlds of Hypnos. These digital dreamworlds, which are made of light that we have sculpted with our conscious and unconscious minds, are like waking dreams. VR creates a metaphorical doorway that allows us to enter into these dreamworlds with people from around the globe, and AR creates a metaphorical doorway that allows elements from these dreamworlds to enter into and merge with the physical world.
By empowering us to be embodied as avatars, VR/AR allows us to become any human form or to surround ourselves with virtual humans who can look like anyone – giving us the god-like power of Morpheus.
With VR/AR, we can also surround ourselves with forms that resemble any animal or monster – giving us the god-like power of Phobetor.
With VR/AR, we can surround ourselves with forms that resemble any landscape, plant, or inanimate object – giving us the god-like power of Phantasos. VR/AR allows our avatars to resemble not just any human form, but also any animal, monster, landscape, plant, or inanimate object.
This image from the film Ready Player One depicts how VR gives us the god-like power to inhabit dreamworlds with people from around the globe, and how VR gives us the god-like power of Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos.
VR/AR giving us the god-like power to create and inhabit dreamworlds has been recognized by people working in the VR/AR industry. The prototype (pictured below) for Sony’s first commercially viable VR headset was named Project Morpheus. According to a 2014 article in Wired magazine, “Project Morpheus—named after the Greek god of dreams, not The Matrix character, Sony says—is the name of the prototype it showed.”
Although Sony called their prototype Project Morpheus—a name intended to connect VR to the god-like power of dream creation—Morpheus is not really the god of dreams. Hypnos oversees all dreams, and Morpheus is the god who can take any human shape in dreams. Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos serve Hypnos.
The First Deepfake?
The Roman poet Ovid, born in 43 BCE, shared a story where the goddess Hera told Hypnos to create an impersonation of King Ceÿx, in order to trick the king's wife, Queen Alcyone. This might be the earliest known example of a “deepfake.”
In Hera's message to Hypnos, she said: “Order your dreams, who mimic the likeness of genuine forms, to go to Trachis, Hercules’ home, in the guise of King Ceÿx and enter Alcyone’s mind.”
Ovid tells us that Hypnos assigned Morpheus to fulfill Hera’s request: “Hypnos awakened Morpheus, the master mimic . . . [who can] imitate human beings.”
Digital deepfakes are already possible with traditional computing technology, but VR/AR spatial computing technology, along with related machine learning and computer vision advancements, will take digital deepfakes to a far more powerful and dangerous level.
This 60 Minutes segment offers an introduction to the challenges posed by deepfakes.
The god-like power of Morpheus, which allows those who wield it to assume any human form, is a metaphor for both digital avatar and deepfake technologies.
Many of the problems that humans deal with today, such as racism, sexism, authoritarianism, pandemics, and war, have existed in some form for thousands of years. These issues are not new, and humanity has been able to make progress on many of them. But humanity has never before had to deal with having the god-like power of Hypnos, Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos.
Imagine what kinds of dreamworlds will be sculpted by people’s tangles of trauma—their rage, alienation, disillusionment, nihilism, and addiction. Humanity is not ready for the upcoming VR/AR revolution and the extreme effects it will have, but together we can get ready. We urgently need to escalate our Peace Literacy so that we can use this god-like power in responsible ways that increase peace, justice, and well-being in our communities and around the world.
© 2021 Paul K. Chappell
It would be a mistake to assume that the dreamworlds of VR/AR are simply “not real.” Like our actual dreams, which are manifestations of our inner reality – our conscious and unconscious desires, hopes, fears, and trauma – the waking dreams of VR/AR will provide a doorway into people’s inner reality, and create new ways for them to express their inner reality. And just as the interactions that occur in the digital realm of smartphones and social media blend with and affect what happens in our physical world, the interactions that occur in the waking dreams of VR/AR will also blend with and affect what happens in our physical world—but in far more drastic ways than smartphones and social media ever could. The technology that allows us to sculpt light in VR/AR will advance dramatically in the coming years, creating far greater realism, and far greater surrealism.
In this 2021 trailer for the documentary, We Met in Virtual Reality, we see an early glimpse of how people are already using VR to meet their non-physical needs, such as their need for belonging, nurturing relationships, expression, and purpose.
The essay, "The World of Electric Light: Understanding the Seductive Glow of Screens," discusses how VR/AR will interact with and affect the outer world, along with our inner world, where our desires, hopes, fears, and trauma live.
Check out these videos on the creation of the Peace Literacy Metaverse.
The Garden of Strong Community: An Allegory and Pictorial
help sustain our work
The Peace Literacy Institute designs curricular materials that anyone can download and use for free to support Peace Literacy in their schools and communities. We also provide education rates for our workshops so teachers can make the most effective use of the curriculum.
Donations make it possible for us to provide this public service.
Your contribution will sustain our work to spread Peace Literacy during a time when humanity needs it the most.