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I am looking for a story about the future of mankind, in which most people have been enslaved in a virtual reality. It ends with the revelation that the people are just lying there imagining their lives with their heads in a trough of feed.

It explains that chemists began to create compounds that could be released into the air to manipulate citizens - causing them to live, shop, think as desired by whoever was in charge. Eventually these tools got subtle enough that they could simulate reality using just these airborne compounds.

This was clearly a prescient view of what later became computer-based virtual reality fiction.

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Stanisław Lem's The Futurological Congress has chemically induced "realities" to cover up poverty/government failures (even if they turn out to be a dream-within-a-dream / hallucination-inside-a-hallucination thing).

The (quite short) book is from 1971 (as am I, so I'm reluctant to say that it's "very old", but it still seems a good match).

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    I agree with this. There is a scene where 2 characters take an antidote whilst in a restaurant. The scene changes from an upmarket restaurant to a more shabby affair. They then take another antidote and the scene deteriorates further. I think there is a description of people squashed together on benches eating out of troughs. – Fruitbat Apr 2 '14 at 6:49
  • You guys rock! I love Lem and am SURE this is right, despite not having read The Futurological Congress in two decades. Thanks. – Lisa Apr 13 '14 at 21:28

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