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Inception’ sparks hours of discussion

Posted at age 25.
Edited .

Friday night I watched “Inception” for the first time with Yizhen and Brad, both of whom saw the movie previously but wanted to watch it again. I had been meaning to watch it, but when I get time for movies, I try to combine that with time for friends, and therefore try to find movies nobody has seen. So if I don’t see a new movie right away, it’s hard for me to later find a group of friends who also haven’t seen it, and therefore I sometimes end up not seeing a blockbuster for years.

Seeking the genre that alters reality perception

Anyway, the movie was amazing. I’ve been trying to find movies that challenge my beliefs, or at least offer interesting possibilities. In this modest quest, I have struggled with how to describe such movies. The closest I come up with is searching for “mindfuck” movies, which generally seem to include the movies I seek, but is possibly a little too broad.

The top Google result for “mindfuck movies” is the article “23 Best Mindfuck Movies,” wherein the author describes the genre as:

Movies that’ll play and screw with your mind till the point that you don’t know where you are, or something very similar.

Some of the movies are like “Layer Cake,” which tells a complex story with many twists that leaves the viewer questioning what is real in the movie itself. But other movies are like “Inception,” which tells a story based on a modification in how the world works (like shared dream states) and leave the viewer questioning his own reality.

I haven’t seen all the movies on the list, but it seems based on the descriptions and based on the ones I have seen that most fall into the “twisted story” category. Some are about alternate history, such as “Anonymous,” which makes the case Shakespeare didn’t write much of anything himself. But most of them are not questioning how the universe works in the way “Inception” seems to.

Movies about ghosts and magic might roughly fall into this “altered reality perception” category, but they don’t seem to affect me the way “Inception” does. I generally think we would know it by now if some people could see ghosts (“Sixth Sense“) or if they messed with us (“Paranormal Activity”). Perhaps movies based on a new technology allowing us to see the ghosts would be closer, but I doubt such a technology would cause the ghosts to suddenly start messing with us, so it’s not as much of a reality changer for me.

One movie that comes close, but not in a “changing our understanding of physics” way, is “The Game,” in which the main character becomes involved in a live action game that takes place over the course of his day to day activities, causing him to have no idea what is real and what is part of the game. This is an entirely feasible, albeit likely extremely complex and expensive, scenario, but I can buy it and therefore it seemed somewhat profound. It might be especially profound watched after eating reality altering mushrooms.

Another movie that approaches the “changing our understanding of physics” category is “Enter the Void,” which is somewhat about the concept of the spirit living on after death as described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and is somewhat about the real, naturally occurring chemical DMT that can allow the user to have an out of body experience. With this concept, however, I doubt we would ever be able to prove it if it were true, so it falls a little short of making me question reality, but it is certainly still thought provoking.

What’s special about “Inception”

I loved that most of “Inception” seems plausible due to one new thing taken for granted in the movie itself. In this case, that new thing is the device that links sleepers via some medical tubes such that they can share dreams. This is great because it doesn’t strike me as being impossible. Humans do not fully understand how the brain functions in sleep; we don’t even know the purpose of dreaming. That makes every crazy thing in “Inception” seem as though it could happen, possibly in the near future. Or maybe it’s already happened?

Inception movie

Inception” provokes many questions about the way our minds work and about what’s possible

I stumbled on a couple articles looking at scientific plausibility of various aspects of the movie. Discover magazine posted a blog “Inception and the Neuroscience of Sleep,” and I found a Stanford associated blog “Inception: A Neuroscientist’s Review.” Neither went very in depth, understandably, as the science is not there for much of this. Then I found “Inception: peering into the science of dreams,” which tackled a few more of the issues like controlling dreams and the speed of time. Basically, we don’t know if anything in the movie is possible, but we can’t say it’s not.

If only it were real

Despite the scientific breakthroughs that would be necessary for us to actively enter a dream state, and a shared one at that, it is still very interesting to ponder the consequences.

For instance, in “Inception,” 5 minutes of sleep feels like one hour in the dream world, and the effect more than multiplies if you dream within a dream, such that 5 minutes of sleep in the real world feels like one week in the second level dream world.

This phenomenon lead me to consider the possibility of “conducting thinking” inside a dream so as to more quickly arrive at conclusions. This wouldn’t even need a shared dream state; I should simply be able to do thought work, like brainstorming or solving math or physics problems, inside the dream world, and then when I wake up, remember the solutions, saving tons of time.

And if the dream within a dream thing were possible, society should be sending scientists and physicists and philosophers into multiple levels of dreaming so as to conduct years of work in minutes. Perhaps we could do drug trials or invent supercomputers or anything else in the dream world. There is seemingly no limit on what is possible.

Brad, Yizhen and I discussed many other things, such as the possibility that when we die, we might wake up such that we were sleeping in another world. We also discussed evolution and the potential arrival of humans or other lifeforms from outer space, but I don’t quite remember at the moment how we got to that. Perhaps I’ll write more later, but I need to get some sushi.