A BLOG of PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS & SPECULATIONS

Misreading Inception with Descartes

Published on Monday July 26th, 2010

Many people, particularly those who hate the movie, think Inception is making the simplistic Cartesian point: how do we know that what we take to be reality is not just a dream. This misinterpretation is not only incorrect, the movie actually takes up a position in direct opposition to this pseudo-deep wisdom.

The big debate is about who was right, Mal or Cobb, is Cobb still dreaming at the end of the movie that Mal, through her suicide, has woken up from? This is a false choice, because the final lesson of the movie is that to ask that question isn’t deep wisdom, it’s ultimately suicidal. The position of radical doubter that Mal occupies leads to her tragic death, and the final scene of the movie, with the spinning top does not invite us to question our reality. In this scene, when we look at the spinning top, wondering if it will fall or not, wondering if this is reality or a dream, we are looking through the world as if through Mal’s suicidal eyes.

The true meaning of the film is a Kantian idealist one: we have no access to the noumenal dimension of reality, of things as they are in themselves. We are in a dream, but there is no outer layer of reality in which we are dreaming it. In a certain sense, subjectivity itself is fictional, only existing as part of the dream. We ourselves are our own dream projections who would be destroyed if we tried to wake up from the dream.

Colloqium

Readers of this post have also read

February 25th, 2010

Caught in Play

An excerpt from Peter Stromberg's excellent book, Caught in Play: How Entertainment Works On You: I have before me as I write this an insert from my Sunday newspaper. On the cover of this insert, I am informed that it reaches 41.7 million readers each week.  The cover story is a compendium of advice, comprised of pointers from–among others—a natural healing…

Read more →
June 12th, 2010

In our unconscious, in the real of our desire, we are all murderers

Slavoj Žižek in Looking Awry at Popular Culture: The first example that comes to mind is Woman in the Window by Fritz Lang: a lonely professor of psychology is fascinated by the portrait of a female fatale that hangs in the window of a store next to the entrance to his club. After his family has gone away on vacation, he…

Read more →
October 4th, 2010

The Messianic Christ & The Limits of Empathy

The scope-severity paradox is well-known: a single person who is the victim of some tragedy provokes an outpouring of empathy, support, money and often legal action. It's why we have laws named after victims like the Brady Bill and Megan's Law and why charities try to humanize the problems they are solving. But in large-scale tragedies, millions of people are affected,…

Read more →

Recent Popular Posts

February 13th, 2014

Left Activism Goes Corporate

One of the most tedious features of the Silicon Valley Hype Machine is its endless repetition of progressive sounding marketing slogans about democracy and freedom, all while promoting a pro-business agenda. But it's too easy to read this as a sinister corporate ploy to co-opt the language of activists and twisting…

Read more →
December 20th, 2013

Civility: A Distance That
Brings Us Together

Just in time for the holidays, Apple's marketing department released Misunderstood, an ad about a surly teenager absorbed in his iPhone in the midst of scenes of his family's idyllic Christmas togetherness. But he surprises everyone when he reveals that the whole time he was making a touching video for everyone to document their familial bliss, moving them to tears. A…

Read more →
January 26th, 2014

Ten Parenting Lessons
I Learned from Franz Kafka

Here's an adage which I think is true: every theory of parenting is implicitly a theory of society. It follows that even if you aren't a parent now, nor ever intend to be one, if you're interested in society and culture, you ought to be interested in the topic because the problems that we parents face (or believe we face) is…

Read more →