treadmill theory of reality

treadmill theory of reality

As I walk across the landscape of reality, I sometimes feel as though the world is passing through me, instead of me passing through it. If I walk forward the tiles on the floor move back. If I move up the staircase, the floors appear to lower themselves. If I open the door to the next room, the door frames to the different room pass through me. If I turn my head to the right, the entire cosmos appears to swivel to the left.

In some sense, I am walking on a treadmill, never truly going anywhere. I give myself the illusion of moving through space. Subjectively speaking, I am simply always here. I cannot be anywhere else. It seems to me that only one point of reference exists in the universe, and that is here. My subjectivity is locked in this space. How can I truly know if I am the one who is moving, or if it is the entire universe that moves through me?

As an experiment: what will I think will happen if I walk across from the bedroom to the living room? I will notice that it is a normalized assumption—a thought that I carry in my head—that I, as a separate entity, am moving through space. The objects of my consciousness instead may simply be shifting around me, arising and passing away. The feeling of walking across space is itself an appearance in my consciousness.

Fundamentally, my reality may as well be like pixels on a screen. Those who have experienced the beauty and terror of depersonalization and derealization will pick up on this. Things feel paper-thin and immaterial. You feel as though you are neither here nor there. Things simply fade in and out of existence on a screen-like aperture.

It is analogous to operating a computer. When I "move" the cursor across a computer screen I am not actually moving an object. Rather, the pixels on the screen are changing in real-time to give an illusion of a linear pathway across a cartesian plane. In reality, pixels are simply choreographing to come on and off in a fixed position.

So what if nothing within reality is actually moving, and things are simply appearing and disappearing choreographically, just like those pixels on a screen that light up and vanish into and out of nothingness? Reality is, in some way, at odds with one’s default assumptions of what one’s senses indicate.

This treadmill theory of reality may render a great deal of anxiety within oneself. A feeling of entrapment. I am never actually going anywhere. I am stuck. Trapped. I cannot move. Paralyzed in my existence. There have been moments where contemplating this idea has stopped me in my tracks and fear of paralysis kicks in. Fear of sudden enlightenment.

But this theory can also turn me into an omnipotent being--a deity who is able to move mountains and an entire cosmos at the turn of one's head: "I am not moving, the world around is moving, and at my command. If I am hungry, I will summon the kitchen into my consciousness. If I wish to resurrect into existence a mountain right here, it is within my power to do so".

All phenomena, at all times, are happening right here. I am here. You are here, always was here, and always will be here. Everything from its own perspective never truly moves anywhere. Wherever I go, I am always here and now. There is no "there" or "later". I am walking on a treadmill called "here".

Fortunately, this makes reality a lot more mysterious. Fading into and out of existence is deeply more thought-provoking than moving in and out of it— to see reality as empty phenomena rolling on and off.