Archive for August, 2010

Inception – an upgrade of Matrix?

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

The multi-layered plot of Inception, a sci-fi action film, parallels its multi-layered meaning. Our sense of reality (the ability to differentiate between dream and reality) is based on several factors. First, continuance of what we consider reality. Most of us wake up into the same reality we left when we went to sleep. Another factor that differentiates reality from dreams is the agreement of others, that what we perceive is indeed, reality. There is also the “feel” of reality, which makes lucid dreaming feel very real. A major factor that allows lucid dreams to stay dreams is our knowledge while dreaming, that indeed, we are dreaming. If however, in lucid dreams we would meet up with others, time after time with these same others, and we would experience together the same lucid dream, then the border differentiating reality from dream would shrink and we would lose the ability to differentiate dreams from reality. This is one of the points made in Inception.  If we accept the assertion that what we perceive to be reality, is in fact reality, and that there can be no proof of the existence of an external objective reality – external to our perception, then the notion of shared lucid dreaming is a likely candidate for alternative realities.

The film is rich in Freudian and Jungian symbolism. Ariadne (Ellen Page) descends with the elevator into the unconscious mind of the protagonist, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). The name, Ariadne, is meaningful, as she was the princess of Crete in Greek Mythology, the mistress of the Labyrinth where the dreaded Minotaur was imprisoned. Ariadne helped her lover, Theseus, by giving him a sword and the ball of red thread that she spun, so he could get out of the labyrinth after overcoming the Minotaur who demanded human sacrifice. In the film, Ariadne draws the labyrinth and helps Cobb get out from the depth of his unconscious where he is trapped by guilt over the death of his beloved wife. The symbolism of likening the mind to the labyrinth is enticing.

Reaching the deeper levels of the unconscious mind and dream reality, the protagonist comes face to face with the Freudian Todestrieb, the death drive, impersonated by his dead wife. This is an interesting phase in the script due to the dual nature of the Eros/Thanatos concept that comes to emphasize the paradoxical duality of reality/illusion (dreams). Of course, sleep is the brother of death, as represented by the half brothers Hypnos and Thanatos in Greek Mythology. This creates a paradoxical situations where dream states, without an external reality factor that can point out that it is a dream, take place in limbo, in a potential that is neither life, nor death and also both. Is the wish for another reality, to live in a dream reality a death wish?  Cobb’s wife dies to continue living in her dream reality and she keeps tempting him to come and be with her forever in dream reality, which now, is real reality for her. So whenever he wants to be with her, he has to die,  which he does symbolically whenever entering the lucid dreaming state, like Orpheus going to the land of the dead, to retrieve Eurydice.  

Another strong symbolism referring to the workings of our minds is the Penrose paradox, the stairs that ascend and descend in a continuous loop, impossible in three-dimensions, as depicted in M.C. Escher’s Ascending and Descending. (The image is the copyrighted property of the M.C. Escher Company – Holland – presented in accordance with fair use under United States copyright law.)

Just as the Penrose stairs cannot be described with certainty as leading up or down, neither can dream reality be defined with certainty as either being reality or illusion, as we learn from the last scene (the parameter throughout the movie for establishing whether they experience reality or a dream is a top that in reality stops wobbling, whereas in dream reality, continues to wobble).

I find Inception a refreshing alternative to Matrix, which left me dissatisfied; Matrix said, reality is not what it seems to be and what we experience as our reality, could be a computer program, which is a great idea. However, what ruined it for me in Matrix was being told that nevertheless, there is a real, objective reality, even if I am not aware of its existence. Inception restores this simplistic view by introducing uncertainty into what we believe we perceive and know, and just as in Holophany, this uncertainty arises from inner paradoxes of the mind and of the process of perception.  The real question should not be, “What is the real reality?” which question presupposes the existence of an objective reality out there, but rather, “What parameters within our perception create our reality?” In other words, if everything we perceive, we do so from within our perception, then our perception of reality is reality. And then, when our perception is a self-referent closed system, it will necessarily be based on paradoxes, (which is what Gödel had proved in his Incompleteness Theorem).

What happens then in a world that is a closed self-referent system? In a world devoid of a viewpoint from beyond this world, for there can be no such viewpoint if the world is the entirety of existence? Such a system will be riddled with paradoxes, inconsistencies and indefiniteness. But wait, this IS our world! Then how can we find consistency, how can we live with the uncertainties, and how can we utilize the paradoxes at the fundament of such a system, so instead of a dead-end they become tools of creativity? This is the subject matter of Holophany.