In 2007 Dr Dylan Evans, a respected behavioural psychologist, and an expert on robots and artificial intelligence, was sectioned at a hospital in Aberdeen. The following morning he sat at breakfast with six other psychiatric inmates – one of whom was heavily tattooed and sporting bleeding knuckles – musing on the etiquette of introducing himself to his fellow patients. Was it OK to ask them why they were there? Should he explain his own story?
The Utopia Experiment is Dylan Evans’s account of how he abandoned his life in 2006, sold his house in the Cotswolds and its contents, and moved to the Black Isle in Scotland to found a self-sufficient community in a remote valley, with a group of acolytes he had recruited on-line. The project was called the Utopia Experiment, and the idea was to attempt to imagine, through real-life roleplaying, the conditions that might exist in the aftermath of society’s collapse.
As the months went by, what began as an experiment became deadly earnest. Factions formed with different views about the future of the human race, and competition and fighting broke out. The yurts they lived in leaked rain. The vegetables they farmed wouldn’t grow. Dylan began to fear for his sanity, and then his life.
This is the story of Evans’s experiment in Utopia, but also an examination of the millenarian impulse – why do these doomsday scenarios fascinate us? Is there any sensible way we can prepare for the worst?