I finally took out the time to finish To the Moon, a faux 8bit indie game from a few years ago, in which a team of scientists fulfill dying people's wishes by going into their minds and changing stuff. Sound familiar? Yes, the game does remind you of Total Recall, right?
But that's not really a problem, just something interesting to bring up, because all of these also play with the idea of changing memories so that people can have experienced their life's dreams. Johnny from To the Moon always wanted to go to the Moon and Quaid from Total Recall always had the fantasy to be a secret agent on Mars who saved the planet and got the girl in the end. Both men, in the end, got their wishes, though in To the Moon we know that the whole thing is just in his mind and in Total Recall it is left open whether or not Quaid just really saved the planet and got the girl or if he is still in a chair at Recall, lobotomized.
Another thing both properties have in common is that at one point one of the characters in both stories asks whether or not it actually matters if it hapened in reality or if they just remember that they did it. Isn't that enough? It's an interesting philosophical question. Because, in the end, what is the human experience really when we come down to it? Isn't it all just a collection of memories? Or is the problem that people have with the whole idea of "just in his head" that no one else will know about it or because no one else experienced it, witnessed it, heard of it, that it isn't true? I think that all comes down to whether you believe you experience something for yourself, in which case it doesn't matter what someone else believes/knows to be the truth, as long as you remember it for yourself. In that case both men in both stories did achieve their life's goals and when they die it doesn't matter to anyone but themselves as they die in the state of mind that they did experience all of this.
On the other hand, I feel like people who say that it didn't happen, even though the men do remember doing these things and those memories making them happy, see it from the point of view of an outsider. Because it all comes down to legacy in the end. When we die, we die, no one's actually come back yet to tell us what's on the other side, so right now it's up to the survivors to remember the dead and their achievements in life. And the thought that someone just died by being lobotomized during a routine Recall holiday or died from old age, never having lived his dream? That is tragic and it should be, but then we only look at it from an outsider's perspective, we cannot share these memories.
For me, I think it all comes down to the famous if a bit cliche words by René Descartes:
Cogito Ergo Sum.
I am thinking, therefor I am. And while I know that that technically doesn't really apply to this situation but if seen from this perspective, then it really shouldn't matter if it happened in the physical world or not because the people do believe that the memories are real. And if they think they are real, therefor they are real. In the end, it comes down to the individual. If you could go out believing you did everything the way you wanted it to go, would you do it?