Like many people who had been married for several years, Dick was bored with his relationship. There was no passion these days. In fact, Dick and his wife hardly slept together at all. However, Dick had no intention whatsoever of leaving his wife. He loved her and she was an excellent mother to their children.
He knew full well what the usual solution to this problem was: have an affair. You simply accept that your wife satisfied some of your needs and your mistress others. But Dick didn't really want to go behind his wife's back, and he also knew that she could not deal with an open relationship, even if he could.
So when Dick heard about Byte on the Side Inc. ('Even better than the real thing!'), he had to take it seriously. What the company offered was the opportunity to conduct a virtual affair. Not one-handed cyber sex with a real person at the other end of the computer connection, but a virtual reality environment in which you 'slept with' a completely simulated person. It would feel just like real sex, but, in fact, all your experiences would be caused by computers stimulating your brain to make it seem to you as though you were having sex. All the thrills of an affair, but with no third person, and hence no real infidelity. Why should he say no?
Baggini, J., The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 2005, p. 10.
Why should he say no? Because Dick doesn't know dick. (As most of them don't...) He was bored with his relationship, but still "loved" his wife? He thought affairs were solutions to problems? He thought all his needs needed to be met? He thought he could deal with an open relationship? He thought a computer could provide the thrills of an affair? All of these beliefs are mistaken; held by someone who hasn't taken the time to understand himself in particular and human needs in general. Dick has not taken the time to "know thyself."
In my blog post How Exactly Do You Know Thyself?, I set up a logical structure to systematically study all the different elements that go in to describing human existence. I won't rehash that attempt at delineating all of those mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive elements, but under the category of What Am I?, there was information on the Body, the Mind, and the Body x Mind interface. The Body x Mind interface produces Emotions, Personality, and Needs and Desires. Dick's "need" for sex is at the heart of this thought experiment, so let's look at this category more closely. Here's a bit of research I pointed out for this topic:
The body and mind together have requirements for them to function properly. Abraham Maslow in 1943 devised the currently definitive list and hierarchy of these needs.
- Physiological: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
- Safety: security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property
- Love / Belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
- Esteem: self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
- Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts
Sure, our physiological needs are the base requirement of this pyramid that need to be met for survival to continue, but they only require a certain amount. We have strong biological urges to eat, sleep, and drink, but we tame them to healthy levels so they do not run our lives and ruin them with excess. The need for sex is the same type of urge. Dick has already procreated (the experiment says his wife is an excellent mother to their children), so technically he's had all the sex his genes really need. And that sex has already helped him build the family, friendship, and sexual intimacy that lie higher up the pyramid of needs in the Love / Belonging category. The fact that Dick is bored with his wife says to me that he is struggling with the fourth level on this pyramid, that he is lacking some amount of self-esteem or confidence to contentedly move forward on his path through life, or he doesn't really feel respect for the most important "other" in his life.
Elsewhere in my categories for how to know thyself, I wrote about topics Concerning Others. There were elements for Family, Friends, Spouses, Children, Acquaintances, and Strangers. Here were my main ideas about spouses:
Finding a romantic partner is natural and useful. A good one will provide the focus of your secure attachment needs in adulthood, thus providing much safety and comfort for exploration. Primal sexual urges lead some to believe that monogamy is not natural, but that is short-term yielding to gratification at the expense of long-term happiness and satisfaction. A spouse can be your companion through life. Find one that can grow and develop with you over the long term. Find one whose life goals are compatible with yours. Find love - love being the admiration of a person’s life.
It takes time to know someone, to hear their stories, know their beliefs, see them in action, see them respond to stress. It takes time to find love. Do not mistake the short-term feelings of desire, lust, and curiosity, strong as they may be, for the long-term feeling of love. Do not believe in the myth of love at first sight - that denigrates the actual meaning of the word. Do not believe that there is only one soul mate out there for you. There are no souls, and there are many people worthy of love if you are worthy of it yourself.
To me, Dick should be giving these ideas much more consideration than whether or not a cyber-affair is the right thing to do. In fact, philosophers throughout history have generally stayed away from this topic of love because they saw it as a kind of madness that clouds reason. The existentialist psychotherapist Irvin Yalom even said in his non-fiction book Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy that he generally has a rule not to treat someone who is in the beginning throes of love because they have no rational perspective about life, and from his own experience they are temporarily incurable. So for Dick to treat his problem of how to live his life with a solution that would likely impair his ability to think about it is completely regressive and ultimately unhelpful.
But we're not talking about an actual affair you say! it's just a computer simulation. Well, all the more reason that it won't ever be able to address his inability to reach the higher plateaus that Maslow described. Rather than work on his love and belonging and esteem issues, Dick is trying to fill his life with base physiological needs. A little fantasy can sometimes help people live and strive, as long as it doesn't affect their ability to accept reality, but Dick apparently hasn't managed to come to terms with his.
I don't know how much sex with a spouse is enough; I'm sure it differs for each individual and couple. In the HBO show Tell Me You Love Me, which is about three different couples and the therapist they all shared, one of the couples was married with two small children. They had been married for about a decade, but it had been years since they had had sex. They couldn't bring themselves to do it even though they both acknowledged it was a problem. It had, in fact, become such a massive problem in their minds that even though they were both attractive and attracted to each other, they eventually became scared of what might happen if they finally 'did it' and some fatal flaw would be revealed about their marriage. The therapist, who I'm sure would have been well-grounded in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, explained to them they had come to place way too much importance on the sex act. Perhaps Dick and his wife have done this as well.
Or sometimes people go down paths when they are young that lead to a dead end in a relationship. Affairs can be exciting to these people because they open up new and sometimes better paths to higher levels of happiness in life. A computer simulation though, no matter how technologically advanced, cannot really ever lead to this. If Dick just needs a quick computer-assisted wank every now and again, that's probably not a problem. Expecting anything more from this activity though is fundamentally misunderstanding what you really need in life.
Anyone else dare to share their thoughts about this topic?