Inception and Philosophy:

Ideas to Die for

Edited by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein

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

Philosophy is... a spinning top.

Would you like to comprehend the details of Inception more profoundly? Join twenty-two 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. 

Zhuangzi dreams he is a butterfly. Or is it the other way around? (from Sylvia Wenmacker's chapter).

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? 

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... 

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?

Meet the authors: The Inception and Philosophy Video (3 min)

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? 

Contents

Introduction: Who’s Putting Ideas in Your Head?

 

 

Level 1: Come Back to Reality, Please

 

1. How to Keep Track of Reality

SYLVIA WENMACKERS

 

2. The Mad Neuroscience of Inception

BERIT BROGAARD

 

3. Inception and Deception

NATHAN ANDERSEN

 

4. Plugging in to the Experience Machine

MICHAEL RENNETT

 

Level 2: We’re Not in Your Dream

 

5. You Have No Idea

JANET TESTERMAN

 

6. The Business of Inception

DANIEL P. MALLOY

 

7. Mental Burglary

MARCUS SCHULZKE

 

8. Right and Wrong in Dreams

JOSEPH G ARVIN

 

Level 3: The Infinite Staircase

 

9. Ariadne’s Clue to Life, the Universe, and Everything

THOMAS KAPPER

 

10. Once Upon a Time

RANDALL E. AUXIER

 

11. The Story of Reality

EMILIE DIONNE

 

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

MATTHEW BROPHY

15. The Movie as a Thinking Machine

THORSTEN BOTZ-BORNSTEIN

 

16. Where Time Stands Still

INDALECIO GARCIA

 

Level 5: Downwards Is the Only Way Forwards

 

17. Dreams, Mourning, and Desire

NICOLAS FLOURY

 

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

VALENTIN HUSSON

 

21. Dream Time

RANDALL E. AUXIER

 

 

Some of Our Totems

 

Just Projections of Someone’s Subconscious

Architectural Code

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