The Inner Light is one of my favorite episodes of The Next Generation. The basic premise is that Captain Picard gets hit with a magic beam by a passing drone. The beam renders him comatose, but in his coma, he dreams of a different life as a family man. Over the course of decades, he gets a chance to raise kids, participate in his community, and grow old with his wife. There’s one line by Picard: “I always believed that I didn’t need children to complete my life – now I couldn’t imagine life without them.” There’s a catch in all this – in Picard’s alternate life, he finds out that the planet he’s on is dying. He tries to fight it, but his people don’t have the technology to fix the world or leave. The only thing they can do is send out a vessel that contains the essence of their civilization. It turns out that the drone that zaps Picard in the beginning of the episode is the only relic of a long dead planet. When it zapped him, he was sent to a VR simulation of that society. It let him experience life as the
Despite living his alternative life for decades, he awakes to find that only 25 minutes of real time have passed. This is something that really resonated with me – The idea of living out entire alternate lives in your dreams as a form of emotional regulation and therapy appeals to me tremendously. Even though we wake from our dreams, the emotions that we experience while asleep are tangible. Dreams may not be real, but our feelings do exist. Are they invalidated because our experiences weren’t physical? I’d say no. This is something that we do with fiction in general – books, movies, and other media. We use media to generate emotional response; There’s no reason why we can’t explore the land of dreams to enact something similar. Anyways, great episode.