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I used to have thoughts that maybe the world was staged for my benefit as I was growing up, and I think that’s a pretty common phenomenon. That’s probably why The Truman Show was so successful.
I came up with a hypothesis that it was caused by the conflict between self-centeredness and the maturation of the theory of mind (“the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own.”).
Young children don’t have any concept that other people have lives of their own. It doesn’t even occur to them to consider it a possibility. But as they grow up, they realize that people do have outside lives. Eventually, ideally you get to the point where you implicitly understand that “everyone is the hero of their own story.” (Although frankly I think few people get that far.)
But a person who’s somewhere in between a full theory of mind a fully narcissistic world view might have some trouble distinguishing the two.
I can only see what’s going on around me, but I now understand that people continue to exist when I’m not around. But what are they doing? Living their own full, complicated lives? Billions of people with full complicated lives? That’s too big for me to understand. What if it’s not that big? What if it’s a lie and it’s really all about me after all?
(Just to tie it to Doctor Who, remember School Reunion? Rose says, “When I was a kid, I used to think all the teachers slept in school.” That’s a perfect example of the in-between state of realizing that life goes on when you’re not there, but not completely understanding that other people have their own normal lives.)
(Also a Doctor Who example, the library’s computer in The Forest of the Dead, where most of the reality is simulated for the benefit of a small group of real humans, and the virtual children stop existing when their real mother doesn’t look at them.)