Jared Loughner's world of illusion.

Jared Loughner's world of illusion.

Jared Loughner's world of illusion.

Media criticism.
Jan. 13 2011 7:32 PM

Jared Loughner's World of Illusion … and Ours

The accused Tucson killer isn't the only one who has a love affair with alternative realities.

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According to the Post, Loughner especially loved the movie Waking Life, which chronicles one man's adventures in the dream pool, as he walks "in and out of dreams, exploring ideas about the fleeting nature of identity."

Dreaming your way to a magical space was already a hackneyed notion by the time Dick started writing in the 1950s. Alice dreams her way to Wonderland, Dorothy's unconscious mind transports her to Oz, and Peter Pan takes Wendy and her brothers to Never Land as they prepare to settle down for a night's sleep. In all three stories, the young heroes struggle against the sometimes tempting, sometimes frightening alternative reality until they break free and return home. So satisfying were these tales that their audiences demanded—and were given—sequels in which Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy all return to their other, truer dimensions and were tested again.


Everybody shares Loughner's appetite for life in another dimension where they can be in control. One difference between Loughner and the man in the street is that the man in the street can easily distinguish between the imagined and the real—something Loughner appears to have struggled with. When our minds occupy alternative realities, we know it's only a movie, only a book, only a philosophical tract, or only a flask of physicists' moonshine. When we visit alternative realities, our grips on this reality grow firmer. When Loughner goes there, I suspect he strips a few mental threads and loses his hold on our world.

What's it like to live on the leading edge of paranoia? From his perspective, what does his 6-by-6 cell look like? Is it a collapsing cube or does it stretch beyond the infinite?


What alt-reality stories, movies, and authors did I neglect to mention? Surely something by Borges. Send tips to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. For an unsavory reality, dip into my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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