Friday, February 25, 2011

Inception and Philosophy

William Irwin and David Kyle Johnson have an interesting piece in Psychology Today on the philosophy of the film Inception. In it they talk about the philosophical issue of reality vs. dreams, or a life of endless pleasure and control. This may not seem to be an important philosophical issue, but, as they point out that though people may not be able to plug into something like Nozick's Experience Machine,

People create pretend worlds on a smaller scale all the time. When presented with the reasons they are wrong, people ignore the evidence continuing to believe what they want to believe: in the pretend realities that make them happy. Religious beliefs, political beliefs, beliefs about the quality of their relationships, beliefs about their own intelligence. Only when we realize how important knowledge is, can we free ourselves from such self-deception.
Our ideologies are too often localized dream states, where we can safely ignore reality. This is fine on the individual level, but when people try to realize those dreams, too often they result in nightmares for everyone else.

They observe that Plato argued in his allegory of the cave that the majority of humanity live in a dream state, while it is the philosopher who learns what reality is. In the same work, The Republic, Plato argues too that the arts and literature are copies of copies and thus twice removed from reality. Nietzsche argues rather that the arts tell the truth because they admit to being lies. They are dreams we can enter into -- a safe play space in which we can learn about the nature of reality precisely because we are under no illusions about whether we are in a dream state. May the arts be a Nozick Experience Machine?

Another thought: actors are always enacting the dreams of others. This is what they do on the stage and in front of the camera. This may explain too their tendency to take up dream ideologies. (Anyone who thinks Castro, Hugo Chavez, or Che Guevara should be admired or emulated most definitely have a dream ideology.) Embodying the dreams of others, they end up never leaving the dream world for reality.

This may seem strange for an artist to say, but I prefer reality. Why, then, delve into the dream world? Why create art, with the intention that others enter into the same dream world? Because art tells the truth of reality in the general form of a dream-lie. If we isolate the dream world into its own sacred space, if we use the proper rituals to enter into that world, then the dream world is an important one for helping us to better understand reality. But only if we remember to leave.
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