Inception and Philosophy
Philosophy is… a spinning top
The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein -- it rejects it. -- Sir Peter B. Medawar, The Art of the Soluble (1967).
The idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all. -- Elbert Hubbard
If there is anything that appears to you to be absolutely self-evident, you must distrust it. It is probably some joke that has been inserted in your brain. You can be certain of everything besides your most treasured certainties, because it was probably your aunts, grandparents, churches, authorities, and media that taught them to you and remain most invested in keeping you from second-guessing. -- Gianni Vattimo
Edited by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein
Would you like to comprehend the details of INCEPTION more profoundly? Join twenty-six philosophers as they examine the film for you. What is the nature of the world? Are there dreams in dreams? Can ideas really be as resilient and powerful as in the film? Is future mankind destined to exist in a world that cannot be truly conceived?"
INCEPTION was the "existential heist film" of the year 2010. The spontaneous association of the film with philosophical dream theories suggests that INCEPTION is underpinned by deep philosophical urges. INCEPTION is the most philosophical, thought-provoking, and disturbing movie since The Matrix. It abounds with flashing insights, many of which seem to have been borrowed from philosophers. For thousands of years dreams represented a way of finding hidden memories, desires, and fears. In INCEPTION AND PHILOSOPHY, philosophers examine the complicated dream theme from various angles. On a first level, the film seems to be a thrilling illustration of Descartes’ dream argument because people cannot be sure that they are not dreaming. However, while Descartes called into question the reality of experience, he still held that our thoughts are our own. This fact is contested in INCEPTION.
Are collective dreams possible? ++ How many layers of identity do people have? ++ Are embedded dreams psychologically possible? ++ Are the characters of Inception right that logical inconsistencies encourage us to wake up from a dream? ++ Do dreams think? ++ Does reasoning occur more quickly below the level of consciousness? ++ Is it neurobiologically and psychologically possible to enter each others' dreams? ++ Did the team in fact succeed in "implanting" an idea? ++ What makes the real world in Inception more real than dream worlds? ++ What is so scary about being in a dream world? ++ Can First Life problems be solved in Second Life? ++ Are we simultaneously living in different realities? ++ Is there an architecture of the mind?
In INCEPTION AND PHILOSOPHY, philosophers explore the INCEPTION theme at a time when technology has made shared dreaming possible: computer users regularly jack in and populate worlds created by programming architects. Forty-three percent of "residents" of virtual worlds such as Second Life report that they feel as strongly about their virtual community as they feel about the real world. Are they walking away from the real world just as Cobb may have done?
Psychoanalysts might see the entire script of INCEPTION as the dream of a neurotic subject. The film also raises questions of cognitive science and neuroscience. Does reasoning occur more quickly below the level of consciousness? Is it neurobiologically and psychologically possible to enter each others' dreams?
Some authors point to the problem of responsibility. In the dream, it doesn't matter that they are shooting and killing people, as they aren't people at all, but "just projections." Is there any ethic in dream-worlds? Or perhaps this is a tale from the business world, meaning that the major players in INCEPTION are not the characters but corporations… Other authors reveal the film's deep religious concerns. Did you know that the term 'limbo' was originally used by Christian theologians to designate a place where the souls wait when they cannot go directly to heaven? Others elaborate on the Greek myth of Ariadne, the clue giver proffering a clue in the form of architecture...
Introduction: Who’s Putting Ideas in Your Head?
Level 1: Come Back to Reality, Please
1. How to Keep Track of Reality
2. The Mad Neuroscience of Inception
3. Inception and Deception
4. Plugging in to the Experience Machine
Level 2: We’re Not in Your Dream
5. You Have No Idea
6. The Business of Inception
DANIEL P. MALLOY
7. Mental Burglary
MARCUS S CHULZKE
8. Right and Wrong in Dreams
JOSEPH G ARVIN
Level 3: The Infinite Staircase
9. Ariadne’s Clue to Life, the Universe, and Everything
10. Once Upon a Time
RANDALL E. AUXIER
11. The Story of Reality
12. Butterfly and Spinning Top
HIU M. CHAN
Level 4: The Most Resilient Parasite
13. Dream Bigger, Darling
JOSHUA RICHARDSON AND ORA MCWILLIAMS
14. Shared Dreams in Virtual Worlds
15. The Movie as a Thinking Machine
16. Where Time Stands Still
Level 5: Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards
17. Dreams, Mourning, and Desire
18. The Undiscovered Country Called Experience
JASON J. HOWARD
19. Inception’s Faith in Everyday Life
CHRISTOPHE D. RINGER
20. Building and Dwelling in Inception
21. Dream Time
RANDALL E. AUXIER
Some of Our Totems
Just Projections of Someone’s Subconscious
Inception features the possibility of dreams within dreams (from Sylvia Wenmacker's chapter).
Zhuangzi dreams he is a butterfly. Or is it the other way around? (from Sylvia Wenmacker's chapter).
Cobb attempts extraction in Saito (left) and inception in Fischer (right). (From Sylvia Wenmacker's chapter).