The Twilight Zone, A World Of Difference: A Philosophical Examination
An office in a standard 60’s setting:
Arthur Curtis, a contented businessman, enters work to find himself and his office in front of lights, cameras, and people. He finds himself referred to, not as Arthur, but Gerry. Through attempting to understand this confusion, he ascertains that these strangers think he is an alcoholic actor named Gerry Raigan working through a difficult divorce. He tries in numerous ways to assert his identity as Arthur Curtis, but fails.
The directors of this “movie” decide to cancel it, as “Gerry” is undergoing a mental breakdown. Realizing the path to his old identity lies in the set, Gerry runs back to the set where he walks through his office doors, and hops on a plane, vanishing mid-air.
His agent shows up on the set to find that Raigan has vanished.
This episode poses questions of existence. Does our universe exist? How do we know we exist? Are there different levels of existence? What level of existence do we, or can we exist on?
Let’s answer the first one using this episode as a model.
Arthur; The Character Gerry: The “real” person The Set: The “invented reality” The (Non-Set) The “real-reality” Subordinate: necessitating blank to exist.
The character believes himself to exist, but finds a higher plane (the directors and the “real-world”) But does that make Arthur’s existence less real? Surely Arthur does not exist in the same way you or I do. That, however, is exactly what this episode proposes. Before Elon Musk, I might add. The CBS Video Library Cover explains it best:
But one nagging question confronts us — is Curtis trying to emerge from the Twilight Zone or plunge into it?"
Within the domain of the episode, this question is answered: it clearly states at the end
“Take the case of Arthur Curtis, age thirty-six. His departure was along a highway with an exit sign that reads, "This Way To Escape". Arthur Curtis, en route to the Twilight Zone.”
Meaning that Arthur is entering the less “real” universe. However, this poses a crisis. Firstly, what does this say about us, the viewers? Each time the episode is watched, the viewers take the same seat as the directors. If they are subordinate to us, are they really any more real than Arthur and the set?
There seems to be a dilemma.
We could say that they are not real, but then what of Arthur Curtis. “That can’t happen” is not an acceptable excuse. What we are Arthurs? Then do we not exist?
The alternative is to assert their existence. But they certainly don’t seem to be real as we are. We appear to create them and can wipe them out by erasing all memory of them. Appears is the keyword: we can’t know for sure, because if the idea is gone, we can no longer contemplate this question.
Perhaps their ‘realness” lesser. If we assert that the characters within a movie are less real, then we need to assume it is at least possible we are less real and in someone else’s movie. How would ethics apply between us? Do they have a moral obligation to not destroy us? Do we have a moral obligation then to not destroy books? Conversely, are superordinate beings as gods to us? Is Shakespeare the God of Hamlet?
By this same token, how do we even know we exist? In this episode of the Twilight Zone, Arthur comes to the realization he may not exist as he knows himself. At the very least, he “knows” that something exists - he thinks, therefore, he is. Descartes famously says “dubito, cogito ergo sum” (I doubt, (so) I think, therefore, I am). However, within the spirit of this episode, it is easy to refute this. When we think, something must exist, but who is to say we are all not just thoughts in someone else’s mind, with every thought or action simply being their thought or action within their mind. For example, I can imagine two imaginary friends and have them talk all in my head. “They think” they are talking, but it is me who mechanizes this. It seems only logical that a being with enough mental power could simulate our own existence. As a side note, I will be writing a blog post on another episode that draws this analogy from the perspective of the superior mind.
To summarize, all that is proven by our thinking is that some thought exists, not that we are the ones doing it.
I think this is where I will leave it. The other episode will help me complete my thoughts, but for now, this should give us ideas to chew!