A third essay of mine was published by Reality Sandwich on 9/9/10. It’s called “Downward Is the Only Way Forward: Following Inception’s Dream Trail” (the magazine added the subtitle, but I think it works well). It was inspired by the film Inception, and in it I discuss topics as various as Eastern philosophy, psychology, quantum mechanics, and Godel’s theorems. It’s about 7,000 words long, and I consider it a landmark in my personal development as a writer. Here are the first few paragraphs for your reading pleasure.
A minority of those who see Christopher Nolan’s film Inception will surely walk away wondering if they are actually living in a dream, either their own or someone else’s. One of the film’s less erroneous statements about dreaming is that it feels real while it’s happening; the surreality becomes apparent only after waking up. So naturally I wondered if, for example, the people sitting around me in the theater were actually part of a dream. But who was dreaming it? Certainly not me—or at least, if this was my dream, I should think I’d like to make it a bit more comfortable, a bit less terrifying. For instance, why did leaving the theater feel vaguely like trying to wiggle through a mob of flesh-hungry zombies? I’d like to have more creative control over this so-called dream. I couldn’t shake these thoughts after watching Inception.
The film depicts a crew of dream engineers who use biochemical technology to enter the dream of a subject from whose subconscious mind they wish to extract secret information. The mechanism of “extraction” goes unexplained in the film (they use a machine that administers a sedative via the forearm), but the basic concept is that a group participates in a single person’s dream; multiple minds interact in an individual’s subconscious psyche. When the conscious ego defenses are deactivated, a person is more vulnerable to intrusion—somewhat like hacking a computer. The plot centers on an attempt at “inception,” a risky procedure that aims to plant an idea in someone’s subconscious mind with the hopes that the idea will become his own and then steer his behavior in waking life.
Like a dream itself, Inception is complex and open to interpretation. And judging by the plethora of speculations on the Web, the film seems to be inspiring two types of articles: first, a celebration over the increased attention given to lucid dreaming and consciousness; second, a frenzied attempt to explain the film’s complicated plot structure. Some from the latter category are insightful, but most take form in a logical swirl that quickly leads to a contradictory knot. I intend to demonstrate why this happens. As we’ll see, Christopher Nolan might have even been in on the joke.