Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog #51 - Philosophical Interpretations of Inception

After reading a few chapters of the latest book that examines the intersection of pop culture and philosophy, Inception and Philosophy: Ideas to Die For, I thought to present a few of the interpretations of the movie.  Take a moment to look at each of these and pick one that you think fits the movie best.

1. Since the movie depends upon technology, the dreams aren't actually dreams but a computer simulated environment ("shared dreaming was created by the military so that soldiers could fight each other and not die") designed by an architect like Cobb or Ariadne. The biggest problem with these simulations is that there is a virus in it named Mal (mal-ware), and she has obviously screwed things up.  However, since such a machine / computer is so rare, it's hard to find or obtain a new one.  So, it's not like Cobb or Arthur can get a new one at Target. 

2. Rene Descartes' question - How - if at all - can we know whether the world we experience while we're awake is real or not? - really fries your noodle if you think about it too much.  So I am asking you to apply this question not only to yourself (part 1) but to the movie (part 2).  In the movie, the characters have totems to know whether or not they're dreaming.  But we don't have them to help us out, so how do we truly know?

3. In 1974, philosophy professor Robert Nozick came up with the thought experiment, "the experience machine" from his book,  Anarchy, State and Utopia.  Nozick asks us to think about a machine that would give us whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences that we could imagine (by plugging our brains into it - Matrix?) in a way that we could not distinguish between reality and this machine life.   Nozick asks, if given a choice, which would we prefer, the machine or real life? 

4. How is the movie a metaphor for skepticism / doubt / Socrates?  Socrates has stated that the only thing that he truly knows is that he knows nothing.  One of the consistent things about Inception is that the movie keeps its audience guessing as to what is the true level of reality - whose dream is real or is the movie's reality truly real?  If the movie keeps us guessing or making us doubt, can the movie/director act as a philosopher?

5. This tangent should truly be called an addendum to question #2 because it asks you to answer the unanswerable, but what if we were all just brains stuck in a jar full of nutrients that kept us alive, and much like the Matrix, that we are in some shared dreaming space or computer simulation?  In the album art below for Pearl Jam's BackSpacer by Tom Tomorrow, the band members are controlled by a vat in a jar. 

However, if the brain had ALWAYS been in the jar, according to Hilary Putnam's 1981 book, Reason, Truth, and History, would it have had any experiences like walking or eating an ice cream cone or playing in a sandbox?  No, Putnam claims, b/c the only things the brain could experience would be that of its vat-existence.  Or in essence, if you've never had any interaction or experience w/ the real world, then you can't really think thoughts about that world and tell whether or not those thoughts are real.  This is called the causal theory of reference. 
 - Do you agree with Putnam's dismissal of the brain in the vat theory?  Why or why not?  Or are you unsatisfied w/ this explanation?  Why?

Due Wednesday, October 19.  250 words minimum. 

Brain in a vat discussions -
Nozick's experiment -


  1. QUESTION 2:
    As I really thought about this question, it became harder for me to answer. When do we really know when we are in a dream compared to reality. The age old question is do you feel pain in dreams? I have realized that you do. I can always feel pain in dreams. If I have rolled onto my wire retrainer (which comes out of my mouth while sleeping) I realize that in my dreams, a story often evolves from this pain. Maybe my sister is pinching me at the precise moment that the wire bits of my retainer are sticking into my forearm. Pain is said to be a main factor of knowing if you are asleep, but in my dreams, I can feel pain, the real distinguisher is smell. In everyday life my sense of smell is my best sense, I am known for being able to distinguish different smells and smelling things, like garlic toast, before anyone else in the room is able to. Other than that, dreams could almost be the same as reality, I imagine that in a dream I am more spontaneous or things seem out of place, but nothing seems weird or different until I wake up, so if I don’t wake up from a dream, nothing will be off, and if there is nothing to “smell” in a dream, I believe it would be hard to distinguish whether or not I am dreaming. In Inception, the dreamer’s feel pain as well, when Mal shoots Arthur in the opening scene, he feels pain, it’s a projection of his mind. The real distinguishers of reality for the characters are the totems. What gets me at the end of Inception is when Cobb spins the top (which was originally Mal’s) and you don’t know if it stops. If the top doesn’t stop, did everything that just occur only happen in Cobb’s dreams and is he still in that dream? But how is Cobb able to trust his totem if it was originally Mal’s? If that was Mal’s totem where is Cobb’s? And this question is what stumped me, the totem question. If a totem can tell the difference between reality and dreams, what happens when the totme isn’t yours?

  2. I believe we do know when we are awake or sleep. Sometimes dreams can seem so real and actually feel that you are living through the dream but there is always a point when realize it was all a dream. There is not one thing that we can identify to tell that we are in a dream because I think it differs upon the person. For myself, I know when I am in a dream or if it was really real, after the fact. When it is real, you know its real because there are no changes to make things better and time keeps going. The world we experience that is not real is during one’s dream. You know you experience a dream when you have the ability to change things or when you wake up thinking it was all real but realize it wasn’t. In the movie, Cobb was able to know that the world he experienced while awake was real because he did not have his children or Mal with him. When Cobb was dreaming, he was able to experience a world of memories but the world was not real because in real life Mal was dead. Although the characters in the movie have totems to know whether or not they are dreaming, we can truly know that we are dreaming once we wake up and face reality. Once you hit reality you know you were dreaming the whole time and it wasn’t true but dreams can come true…

  3. I think that Inception is most like number 1. The one about how the whole thing is not actually a dream but a simulation. It makes sense that way. You can’t just drop into a simulation of connected minds while you are awake and moving, that would be reality. The movie points in that direction with the military quote. Someone designed the machine. The machine basically provides blank infinite space that someone can fill with his or her mind. But this machine creates rules in it that make it so you know if you are in reality or the machine. In my dreams, which are probably true for everyone, there are no rules. You don’t wake up from a kick on the outside of the dream, even though you can, I always remember the dream where I fall off my bike in the dream and I burst to being awake. I clearly remember dreams where I’m sledding on a sort of hovering thing and I can’t stop it so a start freaking out, these are what I can’t control. In inception, the architect and dreamers control the world around them. They remember the entire dream as soon as they wake up but can’t remember the beginning. Real dreams, its like you only remember the end, which is so frustrating. I’m just making this writing up as I go and it hurts my head- think about this, you are dreaming about say fighting in a ring against some alien, the dream is crazy and while you are experiencing it, its very vivid, but then it gets to about 6am and you wake up. You can’t remember any of that part, only the part when you get knocked out and wake up. So there must be a machine that lets the brain remember this, you only have to sleep so the brain can focus on these controlled environments. New idea, the whole thing about reality like the end, the spinny thing stops, but the cameraman accidentally cut it too quickly.

  4. Everyone’s reality is different. Because of our different perceptions and views, we cannot all view the world the same. I will admit, there have been times when I thought parts of my dream were real. For example, I will do a certain homework assignment in my dream and I wake up thinking I really completed it until I come to find out I didn’t and start to freak out wondering why I thought I did it and whatnot. In times like that, how are you supposed to know? For my particular example, I obviously could have checked, but for other things like time or memories, I don’t think there is a true way to find out what is real or not if it is not materialized.

    In the movie, Robert Fischer had to look for a series of things to find out if he was really dreaming or not like weather patterns, time, how he got where he was, etc. The only reason he ended up believing Cobb at all was because he had military training in that subject. If it was any citizen on the street, I don’t think they would ever believe their whole life could be a dream. We do not like to believe what we can’t see and understand. I think the majority of people would have a sort-of existential crisis like Mal did --wondering which place is real, what to believe, and so on. Basically, there isn’t one true thing like the totem to help us.

  5. Question 2. Spoiler Alert.
    Inception is one of my all time favorite movies, and by far has my favorite ending of all time. My friends and I have had heated debates on whether the top was about to fall or not. While I have heard some say it was going to fall and some say it was staying up, I think that the point of the movie is for us to never know what it was going to do. Mal "knew" that life was a dream and killed herself as a result, but Cobb "knew" that life is real. We can only speculate as to who was right and whether it was going to fall or not, but regardless it makes for spectacular ending, especially because the idea then transitions over to our life.
    Shutter Island is another mind screw story that left one idea in my head that I cant forget: what if I am crazy and I am just imagining this reality. This works the same way with the dream reality. We can never truly know if we are awake or not, so it would be nice to have a totem. Since we do not have handy little totems we can only guess what our reality is. I personally have to think that we can only have Socrates' view on life here because all that we know is that we know nothing. Given that, I am going to live my life, whether it actually is life or not, in a good way

  6. 1. Since the movie depends upon technology, the dreams aren't actually dreams but a computer simulated environment ("shared dreaming was created by the military so that soldiers could fight each other and not die") designed by an architect like Cobb or Ariadne. The biggest problem with these simulations is that there is a virus in it named Mal (mal-ware), and she has obviously screwed things up. However, since such a machine / computer is so rare, it's hard to find or obtain a new one. So, it's not like Cobb or Arthur can get a new one at Target.

    I agree that the 'dream' could be a computer simulation (mostly because I don't see why that idea changes anything in the movie). But I disagree with the idea that Mal invaded the machine as some kind of computer virus (later on, DiCobbrio deals with his guilt and kills the Projector Mal. He was the only one able to do it, because he was the source of her). Mal was a virus, just not a cyber one; she was a mental virus, an idea. DiCobbrio felt compelled to 'save' Mal by keeping a memory of her, because he felt bad about causing her suicide. By keeping that memory, that idea of her, and treating it like the real thing, he was padding his own reality, and avoiding his guilt. He removed the virus from himself by confronting his guilt, and thus removing his need for Projector Mal (the opposite of what happens in Pontypool when you try to confront a mind virus...).

    He would have brought Projector Mal with him to any machine he was connected to, and would have taken her with him. They only way she'd carry on to others is if the idea of her was planted in others (her being passed along via inception would be ironic, since she only exists because of inceptional side-effects). The machines don't retain a memory of the people hooked up to it (they mention that if they reach Limbo, it will be filled with things from the last person in the group to reach Limbo. This is because Limbo is based on the subconscious, and a person doesn't lose their subconscious when they wake up from a dream. They carry its content with them, wherever they go).

  7. 1) This question seemed really interesting to me, I don’t think it necessarily is true. I guess it makes sense, why Cobb would be in love with a virus is a bit strange, but so is this movie. As I was studiously looking this up on google, there seemed to be a quote from the movie that has to deal with viruses. “Ideas are like a virus”. So would that make Mal an idea? Maybe Cobb performed inception on himself when he was in limbo, and that “idea” certainly changed him. I guess the glitch in the program would be the fact that you can’t do inception on yourself and therefore Mal became out of his control. Oh cool I just made my own theory. However, I do think that these are actual dreams and not simply a program. It seems that it goes into a person’s subconscious; wouldn’t that make it a dream regardless of the program? So by saying these people aren’t actually dreaming means that these machines just put you in a simulated environment? What about the projections? I mean, there’s a lot of validity simply in the fact that her name is Mal, but I think it could just be another interpretation according to the viewer. To go along the lines of Descartes, until we have absolutely no doubt, then it can’t be taken for the truth. Well I still have doubt on both theories, and this is a movie so it’s not like we can do any research afterwards. So my answer to whether it’s real just depends on the person watching the movie. Sort of a cop-out, but that’s the answer that can almost never go wrong.

  8. Here's the link to my response to blog #51.

    Leah Sherman

  9. If I had the choice, between a perfect reality in which I could decide and give myself everything I desired and real life, I think I would chose the utopian life. Because in this point in my life I am so bored with what we, as children are “supposed” to be doing, I think it would be such an experience. Though obviously, like every type of society there would be issues. Though instead of the hunger, homeless, and disease-wrecked society we life in today, it would be that there is nothing more to spend money on or that you’re too happy as a person, wow what a choice to make. I think with this type of society people would be a lot nicer, and the existence of greed would just disintegrate. Also as a class when we talked about the sins of life, jealousy was pronounced one of the worst, if not the worst of all of the sins. Because in this world one would be able to make/give themselves anything and everything they want there would be no room for greed. In this type of society people would work because that is what they love to do, not because they are forced to work there or they think that is the way that they will make the most money. The world would just be a lot happier of a place I would have to think. The things in life that make it so tough are things like school and if you were able to take in information without a problem that would be resolved. You could find the perfect person to spend your life with and many things such as greed and jealously and depression and physical appearance would be something that would change your mood because all of those things could be altered in this perfect type of alternate universe.

  10. I would like to think we live in a real world, but Descartes could be right that none of this is even real. In the movie, and even in “real” life, we may have been dreaming all alone. In the movie, it’s completely possible that Cobb is still in a dream at the end. We never saw the totem fall, and we never saw anything else that shows us they are back in reality. For us, it’s a little different. I don’t believe that we’re all dreaming, or that we are brains in a vat. But it still is completely possible that what we conceive as real isn’t real at all. I don’t think we have any way of figuring out whether we are in reality or not. We don’t have totems or any other item to tell us if we are in reality or not; even if we did, if the totem tells us we are in reality, we could still not be in reality and our senses are just deceiving us. We can never actually prove our existence. Anyway, does it really matter if we are real or not? We are either in reality or we are not. Either way, whichever we are in, we would be experiencing the same things. If I was in reality eating a cheeseburger, would it be any different than me eating a cheeseburger somewhere other than reality? No. If my experiences are the same wherever I am, I don’t think it matters where I am. Relating my life to the movie, I guess the only way I could wake up is by dying. So I’ll find out one day whether this life is real or not.

  11. I chose to answer question number 2. As I read through the possible questions, it was the one that really stuck out to me. I really like this question because it makes you think and think hard. It isnt just something that can be answered with a couple of seconds thought. I think that the way that I tell that I am not dreaming is that things don't always go my way. I have had to experience some pain because of this. I think that if someone was controlling my life there wouldnt be the ups and downs. They would choose a path for me and nothing would come in my way from completing that path. Another reason, is that I can't just bounce back from things. If I break my leg, tehn I can't just be up and running in the next instance. I have to rest and recover for a period of time. In the movie, I think they know because things dont really happen like they are suposed to. People are alive that are not around anymore. Along with that things happen in the dream world that are not suposed to happen. Not everything is exactly the same as the real world and the charcters are able to see thesae differences. The differences are the big sign to me as to why the charcters know where they are.The projections and the projections behavior are another thing that is a tell to the dream world.They just attack if anyone gives them any reason to be suspicious.

  12. #3 Although the machine life seems like the ideal life to have, one in which all your desires and dreams are fulfilled, I would take reality over it any day. In a world were everything is perfect there is a lack of learning opportunities. I believe that we are who we are because of the hardships and challenges that we face. Without these moments our lives would have less meaning, and the things that we earn wouldn't give us the same gratification that we get now. Another issue with a perfect world would be the other people in it. I feel that it would be had to trust people in their opinions and also love anyone because they would only be saying and doing things that you plan in your head. There would be a lack of surprises and honesty.
    In my reality now it is easier to trust people who don't always say what they think I want to hear. If my mom were to tell me that a dress I was wearing was ugly and did nothing for me, it would hurt at that moment. The next time I put on a dress and she said I looked beautiful it would make me feel great because I would be able to trust that she was telling the truth. Also in my reality when I work hard for something and I achieve it I feel like I just climbed Mount Everest. If I got all of my dreams and desires without ever trying, I would never have the chance to feel this sense of accomplishment.

  13. 2. It really is a creepy thing to think about what if my reality is actually a dream. However, there is one thing that lets me know whether I am dreaming or when I am awake. When I am dreaming, I only have half of my vision. For some reason my vision in dreams is a lot of black, and I don’t really have the full vision I do in real life. So when I am awake, I know it because I have all of my vision and there are no dark spots at all. However, I guess it could be the other way around and that my dreams are my reality, and my reality is that I don’t have good vision, while what I think reality is a dream, because I am dreaming I have perfect vision. Is it too good to be true? I guess I will never really know. As for the movie, they are lucky that they have totems to be sure that they are in reality. That would be really amazing if something like that existed in real life. However, we will never really now for sure if Cobb is in a dream or reality because he doesn’t have his own totem. Maybe Mal, in a way, is haunting his totem which used to be hers, and messing with him. This way, he will never really know. I wish the movie had not left us with a cliff hanger, with the totem spinning. I think the totem not landing but just sort of wobbling is the film maker’s way of telling us that there really and truly is no way to know if you are in a dream or if it is reality. I think he/she was trying to tell us that Cobb doesn’t know, we don’t know, and they wanted us to in weird way think about our own dreams as a possibility for actually being our reality.

  14. Ellie Toth
    5th hour

    1.Mal is definitely the virus that is hard to fight in this computer. It is not possible to get a new computer for inception. Cobb and Arthur know that they have to fight Mal out of the computer; however, I don’t think Cobb wants to get rid of Mal. Cobb still loves Mal and even though she left him behind and is trying to ruin his plan to get home to kids, he can’t seem to shake her from this inception. I think if he really wanted to, Cobb would do everything to get rid of Mal and would be successful with it.
    When Cobb and Mal were living in Limbo, Mal started to think that was their real life. And when they got back to reality, Mal started to go insane. Cobb couldn’t have done anything to help Mal back in reality. So she killed herself. I think Cobb started to go insane after this. He kept Mal in his dreams, almost like a prison, so he could go back to her every time he was dreaming. He loved seeing her face again. Dreams seemed so real to him that seeing Mal after death was just like another day with her alive. He couldn’t let go of Mal. He needed her.
    As much as Mal screwed up Cobb’s attempts in inception, he could not get rid of her. She was the virus causing him to go insane and causing all of his work to fail. In the end, I still don’t think Cobb was able to let her go. I think she will still be in his dreams until he is able to overcome the grief of losing her. The Mal-ware was staying in the computer because Cobb was letting her.

  15. in answer to number 2, i think, for myself, that life is very real and not a dream because when I fall asleep I dream and sometimes I don’t remember my dreams, i remember my daily life a little bit better. I could understand how some of the mundanity could blend memories together in real life. Honestly though, i don’t know if it is real or not. No one can. I like to think that it is too, mainly because in life, everything can’t just be ended by waking up and throughout my life, at least so far, the feelings, both physical and psychological are very intense and very real-- they don’t always go away-- at least for me. I don’t really have a totem like they did in the movie. If the totem can be anything, it could be the human heart-- when it is beating, the person is having real experiences. On the contrary, when the beating stops, the persons experiences, real experiences cease. The only real thing I have to go on, in the form of any totem, take a pin, is that no matter what, i can still feel it when i hold it, it has a presence. In a dream or an alternate world, it is quite possible that that totem will not have a presence. I also think that depending on the totem and the significance the totem has to the person, the more real life gets-- because of the totem which serves as a grounding to the real life. Again, I have really no idea-- it is possible though.

  16. In Response to #3

    If I was given the choice between living my life in a false machine reality, where I could have whatever pleasurable thing I wanted, and the real world where things go wrong everyday, I would choose to live in reality. Even if I could not tell the difference, even though if I was experiencing non-stop pleasure I would know it wasn’t reality because real life is never a procession of pleasurable events and experiences. But that’s what makes the pleasurable experiences so much more pleasurable! The idea that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, weather its being able to go out on the on the weekend with your friends because the pleasure isn’t just in the action, it’s also in the knowledge that you’ve worked all week long, and now the music is playing on your time. If I were to be on a nonstop circuit pleasure I know eventually I’d get bored. Eventually, I would want to something to go wrong, and I would want to ruin it. In computer reality where everything is awesome all the time, I would become desensitized and numb. The whole thing would be one big blur, every party; every pleasurable act would be the same as the next one. I imagine it would be like how in Inception, a person who is asleep can never recall how they got where they were, they just know, where there are in the present. I want to live in a world where there are bad people, in a world where people are miserable, and where there are awful things like murder and disease, not because I like these things, because I hate them, but that’s what real life, the contrast of bad things makes the good things all the more good. Bad things bring out the best in people; hard times bring people together in new ways, and teach us to not just think about our selves. Also, how pleasurable can something be if it’s not real, it’s artificial? If I walk down the street and a bunch of people are smiling at me, but they don’t mean it, they don’t really want to say hi to me, they just say hi, because it makes me happy, I’d hate that. I’d rather have every single person, except one, ignore my existence completely, if I knew that the one person who says “hi” really is being nice and friendly, because they want to, because they are genuine. That’s why I want my imperfect reality, because I would have live a hard life in reality, then a perfect one that was never real.

  17. Question 2
    I think in life once you start thinking about it it’s really difficult to know if what’s happening is actually real and not just one big dream. I mean in all actuality we have no way of proving the life were living is reality. As much as we wish there was one stability factor that we could look to for affirmation that the life were living is real there isn’t one. I think in order to no go crazy thinking about this we just have to have some sort of faith in our lives. I think that in order for me to know that life is real I just need to look around and see all of the wonderful creations and the intricacy of the world and I know that to me this couldn’t be a sham or dreamed up. The way that the world works and all the science that’s behind its different functions makes me believe that the life I’m living is in fact reality.
    In the movie however I think it was a lot easier for them to know which realities were real or not because for one they had totems. Their totems helped them to know if they were dreaming or not, but then again they could have made their totem in a dream so it’s not a sure way to know if they are in reality. Also I think it is easier for the people in inception to know if they are in reality or a dream because they have so many rules about the dream world. Such as how dreams start in the middle so if you don’t know/remember how you got somewhere your probably in a dream. Either way in real life or in the movie inception it is very difficult if not impossible to know if what we experience is real.

  18. 1: It’s hard to explain how we know what really is reality. I feel like the only answer to that is you just know you’re in the world and not dreaming. Personally, my dreams can be so weird I know things like that would never happen. While im dreaming, I can’t think, have emotions, and hear my thoughts like I would if I was awake. I think that’s a big part in telling the difference. When im awake, I cant make decisions easier, have emotions and hear my thoughts unlike when im sleeping. In some of my dreams I do these amazing things, but in reality I could never achieve such a thing. So this cant be some type of a “Sims game” because you would want your person to be the best in reality, not just when they’re dreaming. I read an article once and it was talking about this same type of topic. They said that there is a high possibility our reality isn’t actually reality because everything is so fine-tuned. If an atom, star, or planet were slightly smaller or bigger, people wouldn’t exist. Its just so hard to think that this world was created so perfectly on its own, (excluding religious beliefs). In the movie, besides having the totem its hard to tell what’s a dream and what’s real. For Cobb its easy because when he’s dreaming that’s when he sees Mal. Seeing dead people is a give away that your dreaming. The dreams in the movie were so perfectly formed that I wouldn’t have a way of determining what’s real and what’s not. Weird things that happen like Cobb’s dreams of half a city broke and half standing wouldn’t happen like that in the real world. If it wasn’t for the totem, everyone in the movie would probably go crazy like Mal because they couldn’t figure out what’s real.

  19. Oran Lieberman
    Question number 3

    I think Robert Nozick's question of wether average people would prefer to live in the machine world or reality not only applies to our personal lives but to the movie inception as well. In the movie Inception, Cobb has to make a key decision at the end to be able to decide wether or not to stay in limbo with Mal. Limbo represents the equivalent of the machine world in which Cobb would have everything he ever wanted there, meaning the building/home, Mal, and his kids. Most of those were things that Cobb would never be able to receive in reality. Although this would seem perfect, Cobb made the choice that I believe most people would make. In the end of the movie, in Cobb's last confrontation with Mal, Cobb tells Mal why he cant be with her and love her anymore. These reasons being how she isn't real, and she's only a shade of the true Mal, choosing reality over her. This imply and agrees with my own belief of how something being falsified does not have the same feel or inner power as something that is real. These effects are constantly appearing in our own human interpretation of reality as well. These types of situations mainly occur in video games now. In almost all sports video games, people can customize and create their own players to suit any appearance and any skill set that they would like, however; almost all athletes would rather play a real sport in reality than fantasize about talent in a video game. All of these situations reflect why i believe people would choose reality over machine simulated perfection daily. Hopefully

  20. Question 3:
    Given the choice between reality and a "machine life" where you can do anything and feel any sensory pleasure you want, I believe that most people would choose reality as their "permanent existence." Some people may use the experience machine for recreational purposes - kind of like a hallucinogenic drug - but I think that most people would at least keep a "home base" in reality. Just like no one wants to be lied to, no one wants to know that they're living a sham of a life. The only reason someone would elect the machine life over real life would be if his or her real life was horrible - if he or she faced a desperate condition like poverty, hunger, emotional torment, or total isolation. Furthermore, I do not think that a machine life could ever match the depth and complexity of reality, with its infinite number of interacting forces.
    Cobb echoes this idea in Inception. When Ariadne enters Cobb's dream, she sees that Cobb has used dreams to recreate his own "version" of Mal because he cannot let go of her memory. He essentially creates his own machine reality where his soul mate is still alive. Near the end of the movie, however, when Cobb and Ariadne are in Limbo, Cobb admits that his recreation of Mal is a sham - merely a shadow of the real Mal. He cannot continue living under the guilt of knowing that part of his life is a lie. I believe that most people, if they had the chance to live in an "ideal" macihne reality, would come to the same conclusion.

  21. Question 2)
    You can’t really answer a question like this, when you take off all of the extra science fiction baggage you are really just left with “is your world real?” Now many people would think that it was a stupid question and that of course their world is real, after all what else could there be? But if you think philosophically about the question you get into “fried noodle territory”. There is no way to justify that your world isn’t real, so we have to assume it is or be thrown into chaos ourselves. What would be the purpose of anything if we were in a “dream world”? And anyway, according to “Inceptition” we could probably just kill ourselves to wake up.
    If we were living outside of reality other people wouldn’t be in our dream, except for a few, everyone else would just be a projection of our imagination. Would this mean that by destroying building or killing people we would be destroying our own sub-consciousness? According to the movie we wouldn’t be but I still feel that destruction of parts of a dream would case the dreamer to forget about those projections it made and possibly the memories under those projections.
    Maybe the reason something seems familiar or that time seems to slow down or speed up and other strange phenomena could be caused by the fact that we are all hooked up to a machine in some hospital or military facility. And these oddities are us seeing that we are in a maze before we get distracted or disoriented, similar to trying to remember a dream, even if it just happened.

  22. I think that if we were given a choice live in reality, or in a machine-made “reality” that could produce whatever experiences we wanted, most human beings would choose to live in reality. There’s an old saying that says “Half the fun is getting there” that I think could be easily applied to professor Nozick’s concept. We all seek pleasurable experiences but is the pleasure still there when that’s all you receive or know you’ll get? In class we were talking about a gambler who goes to hell, but his version of hell is winning every bet he makes. Of course he would want to win, but winning every time takes away the suspense and action of everything, possibly the very things he loved about gambling in the first place, diluting it to a repetitive practice of predictable results. Now I’m not sure that follows the logic of why the gambler’s hell was what it was in the book/movie we were discussing, but it makes sense. If we create our own “reality” not only would we not be able to provide spontaneity in our lives, but I also think we would never learn. You learn from mistakes, yet no one actually likes the mistakes they make. If no one likes the errors they make, they would never choose to experience them willingly, and therefore never learn. The interactions you experience in [real] reality balance out your live with thoughts and actions of others, but if you make your own reality you are surrounded by nothing but yourself and your choices, which tend to lead to a lonely feeling, I can only imagine. Although I think the answer is a pretty straight up one, there must be conflict regarding this situation based on all of the movies and books based on the same theory. I know what I would choose to do, but I don’t know that everyone else would do the same…

  23. I disagree with Putnam's statement on the basis that even were a brain to be in complete sense-dep (deprivation)*, it would still function as a brain would. For a lack of any purpose, a creative mind can create tastes that don't exist, see buildings that are entirely unrealistic, and even come up with hypothesis that it should have no chance at creating, let alone understanding what it could mean in the broader sense. Also, would a mind without purpose, perhaps left alone in a maelstrom of infinity** could create a great many things. Like a small child with altogether too much caffeine*** such a mind could come up with the most ridiculous ideas along with the willpower and lack of concern about such mundane things as breathing and controlling muscles to keep them afloat. As hinduism would say, a great cosmic dream in which we live, where we are bound to obey the rules of said dream as projections of a larger subconscious.
    Also to the question of whether it all matters whether or not this is true, I think that as long as you have no regrets about how you live and you live, maybe not for the present, but not in the future either.
    *No idea where this wordcombo came from, but it's pretty awesome.
    **See above
    ***Definitely myself as a child

  24. 3.Nozick proposes a good question in which my answers change over time, and through experience. Before seeing Inception I would have greatly taken the picture-perfect life, but now my answer is different. In the movie, the machine brought back memories for Cobb. This may be perfect for him but I wouldn’t want to live through the past. Even at the end of the movie, Cobb shows that he hates living with the guilt of Mal being false. Life is life and if we should be living a perfect one I think it would’ve been made possible a long time ago. In Mr. Wickersham’s room, there is a poster that reads “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” In a perfect world, mistakes wouldn’t be made, what’s the fun to that? No more spilled milk to cry over, no more laughable memories. Plus, if there’s no more mistakes, does that mean you don’t learn anymore than what you were born with, because you know what they say-you learn from your mistakes.

    Every once and a while, I think it would be a good experience just to “hook up” and enjoy the perfect life. This way I know what is real. For example, without being able to turn on a TV, I wouldn’t necessarily know if I was living reality or the TV. Well that’s kind of a stretch, but you get the point. Life is made up of great memories, shameful memories, and a mix of both. Everyone has lived that way; therefore it is possible to live without plugging into a machine. I would rather face those challenges than live a life full of lies.

  25. Jack Arvai 3rd hourOctober 19, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    In response to question 3, if given a choice, I would most likely prefer real life. I’m not saying I wouldn’t try the machine, but it would just be to see what it’s like or as like a ‘virtual vacation’ from reality. I would try to not spend a lot of time in the machine though, because spending too much time in something that is not reality may leave you confused to what really is reality. This sort of thing happens to Cobb in the movie. He spends so much time dreaming that sometimes he doesn’t trust that he’s in reality and he has to use his totem. Cobb actually gets to the point where he would rather be dreaming than in reality, mainly because Mal is something he can only see in dreams.

    One reason I could see someone choosing the machine over reality was if they were handicapped in some way; whether it be blind, deaf, mute, or paraplegic. They would use the machine to experience what life would be like if they weren’t handicapped. Another reason I could see someone choosing the machine over reality was if they had a really terrible life, like someone who hated their live and wanted something different in live then their horrible reality. This also relates to Cobb and the movie, because he can’t live without Mal so he dreams to experience her again, even if it’s not the real Mal. Cobb makes a dream that he goes into often in which each different level is a different memory with Mal.

  26. Brittney Jernigan
    2)Decartes' question is one of those questions that cannot be answered with 100% confidence. Us humans could be living in a dream as we speak, and just haven't woke up yet. The only reason why I would think we're NOT dreaming is because this dream is just TOO long, but you can never be too sure. No one knows if this world we're in is real or not, so the only thing us humans can do is assume. In the movie, the characters have totems to know whether or not their dreaming. They have a better sense of reality than we do, but it's still sketchy. Dreams and reality are too much alike. In a dream, you can feel emotion and your five senses just like you can in real life. For example, Cobb has been living different memories with Mal for years. In the dream, he loves her, just as he does in real life. Whenever he saw his children in a dream, he would become sort of sad or upset. His projections of people, places and memories that he's encountered in real life are also recreated in his dreams. Same with humans. But in the movie, they have totems, we don't. Cobb knew for sure when he was dreaming, and when he was awake in the real world. Unfortunately, us humans may never be 100% sure.

  27. Ari franklin

    2. I often ponder renes descartes question of how do we know if we are asleep. In the movie it is explained using two examples. The first is that they have totems and the second is even cooler to me. It is that you think of how you got there and if you're dreaming you won't remember cause you always start in the middle of a dream. In real life, however, it is not as easy. Everyone says that old prhase "pinch me, I'm dreaming" but I don't think that that works. It could just be brain impulses. You can apply the second example from inception and try to think of how you got there but that could just be a projection or false memory. I think that there is no real way to see if you are dreaming you just have to have faith that you aren't.

  28. #3 Inception movie:

    I would choose real life, because I wouldn’t want a machine to give me all the good pleasurable things, I would like to experience them the real way and life my real life. I wouldn’t want to imagine things and make them come true from the machine. I would want to make my imaginations come true in my real life! In reality, I would like to try to reach for my goals and imagination. I wouldn’t want the machine to do things for me. I think that living would be pointless, because if I was hooked up to a machine, then it isn’t life. Life is made to live, not to live on a machine and let things happen from a machine. The machine would just give us good pleasurable things. Not only that but our minds should be doing the work, if we had machines then we would be really lazy. If we had the machines then in real life we could be fully happy and say that we did it all by our self, because of the machine. Since I would choose real life, then I would be happy to accomplish anything, even if it was something small, because I know that I did it all by myself without a machine. I think using the machine as choosing your life would just be totally crazy, because you could experience life the way it really should be. That’s why I choose real life I would like to accomplish all of my accomplishments and goals, knowing that I did it without a machine!

    Angelina E.

  29. Crystal Oropeza Hour 5
    Blog #51- Inception, Question #3
    A machine that gives us whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences imaginable is pretty tempting, but I would choose real life. Having a machine that gives you everything you want would get pretty “normal” after a while and there would be nothing to look forward to. To get to your desires you must earn them, it’s sort of like a treat. For example, many spoiled children get everything they want and don’t respect or realize how others have to earn many things that they don’t. I think it’s better if you earn your things. Having everything done for you, handed to you, and baby-fed to you is not useful in life. You have to learn to earn your desires and experiences. You have to learn how to do things on your own. There would be nothing to look forward to, all you would have to do is hook your brain to the machine and it would all seem real, even though it wasn’t. I appreciate life, real life; I live with the ups and downs, sad times and desirable times. I earn the good times, by going through the bad times. Having a machine to live wouldn’t be enjoyable to me. Although it may be enjoyable for the time I am hooked up to it, I just would want to be in reality. Inception relates to this question because they were hooked up to the machine that put them in another world, a dream, where experiences are altered and different, but none of them necessarily ever wanted to be stuck in there forever.

  30. 3. I’ve actually thought before about whether I would actually want everything I desire and hope for given the choice, and the answer is no. At least for me, my life would be so unsatisfying if it were perfect, if I didn’t have anything to work for or desire. I know that if I had everything I wanted, my life would be empty and I wouldn’t be happy, though that’s what you’re trying to achieve by getting everything you want. So it works against you really. There are some things in life that I want so much that I’d do anything for, which is the case for almost anyone else, but just being granted those wishes and desires wouldn’t be as fulfilling as achieving them on your own, and knowing that you’ve brought that into your own life. On the surface, when you think of a way to achieve the life that you really desire, it sounds amazing and wonderful and exciting, but if you really think about it, I think it almost seems sad. Another reason why I think this wouldn’t be as exciting and fulfilling in actuality is because of the fact that you can’t distinguish between machine life and reality. It wouldn’t bring as much happiness to you as you think it would in anticipation of it now because you’ll have nothing to compare it too, no unhappiness--no reality. I think that if people were given the choice, the majority would probably choose the machine without digging deeper into the consequences, but I know that I would choose reality, because you can’t be happy without unhappiness.

  31. 2. This question definitely did fry my brain. I started thinking about this question, then started questioning the reality of everything that was happening around me. It was scary...
    Anyway, in regards to the movie, the way to tell the difference between reality and the dreams it's to have a totem. I think this was a very good way to tell the difference. Because if you're in someone elses dream, and they try to make you think that your totem was there, you could simply pick it up and see if it was indeed real.
    However, this won't work in real life unless you're a lucid dreaming expert. I honestly don't think there's a sure fire way to know the difference between reality and non-reality. I think that since we spend so much of our lives in this "section" of existence that we have been taught and believe that what we experience everyday is reality, and that the shorter part of what we experience is not reality. I feel like most people (including myself) just accept that this it's our reality and move on without investing too much time it thought into it. It's always bugged me that we can never truly know. Like, who are we to say that the dreaming isn't reality. Granted, thinking about this too much could definitely lead to an array of mental illnesses. But, I guess that since when we dream, we eventually wake up. Therefore, we have effectively been thrust back into "reality."

  32. Well Mal was just a projection from Cobb’s self-conscious that he kept bringing into every dream because he could no longer control his guilt. I don’t think she was affecting the machine/ computer because she never appeared unless Cobb was in the dream. In the last dream, every time Cobb moved on into a new layer of it Mal would never be seen again on the lower levels, like with the van or the hotel. Plus when Arthur took Ariadne under so she could learn more about the dream world, Mal never appeared even when they were changing things. He couldn’t know the map because Mal was a part of him, so it wasn’t like Mal was sabotaging the plan it was more like Cobb is because he knows what happens every time he enters a dream, but he doesn’t care he just wants to get home to his kids. The reason he’s in the situation he’s in now was because he kept pushing Mal to go deeper and deeper into the dream for his own selfish reasons, then he changes Mal’s reality because he can’t stay in there any longer, another selfish reason, and finally in the last dream with the group he refuses to tell anyone about Mal and the dangers and just continues because he wants to get home to his kids, another selfish reason. Cobb brings Mal everywhere because he still hasn’t dealt with the pain and truth of it all, that his wife is dead because he planted an ideal in her head that grew like a virus. He locks Mal deep in his dreams in the memories that he wish he could change, but by doing his he is breaking one of the rules, Never recreate things from memory. This guilt is so strong that it follows him everywhere and it continues to follow him until he settles things with her in limbo, because when he reaches Satio in Limbo Mal never appears and even if the last scene was a dream there is still no Mal, so that must mean he finally made peace with her.

    Alexis Tillery

  33. Amber Williams
    "Can we know whether the world we experience while we are awake is real or not?" This is a very complicated question. I do think you can tell whether you are in a dream or not but in Cobb's case he might not be able to tell. I do not think you actually know you were dreaming until you wake up. In a dream, everything seems so real but it is just projections in your mind that you will realize is not real once you wake up. In reality, you remember most of the things that have happen in your life. However, when you are dreaming most of the time after you wake up you do not remember what you dreamt about. In the movie Inception, everybody had a totem to let him or her know if they were in reality or in a dream. Even though Cobb had a totem he could still tell if he was in a dream or not because most of the time in his dreams he would always see Mal and his kids. In reality, Mal was dead and he was not with his children. Mal was not able to tell if she was in reality or in a dream that is, why she killed herself trying to be back to what she thought was reality. I think some dreams can be so real that you mistake them for reality. That is why Cobb was not sure if he was dreaming at the end of the movie when he went home to his children.

  34. Question #5

    Asia Ross

    I agree with Putnam. I don't think you can ever really know how something feels until you experience it for yourself. A brain locked away in a jar doesn't even have the same needs that we as humans have to have. If you've never experienced the real world you would no nothing about it. It should be so foreign to you. The way that I make sense of this for example is like having your heart broken for the first time. Someone may tell you how horrible that feeling really is but, until you experience it for yourself you will never know. Same with never having any connection to the real world. If I never were to step foot outside of my house, I wouldn't have a clue to what is going on in the outside world. Like, if someone had NEVER been taught about God or NEVER even one heard his name come up in conversation, chances are they're not going to question him or know him. I guess it's just out of sight out of mind to me.

  35. 2. Rene Descartes' question - How - if at all - can we know whether the world we experience while we're awake is real or not? - really fries your noodle if you think about it too much. So I am asking you to apply this question not only to yourself (part 1) but to the movie (part 2). In the movie, the characters have totems to know whether or not they're dreaming. But we don't have them to help us out, so how do we truly know?

    In regards to the movie, obviously depending on how their totem fell, determined if they were dreaming or not. Unfortunately, that was a movie and in real life, it isn't so black and white. I honestly don't think that there is a way to tell for sure if we're awake or dreaming. To put it simply, in my opinion, a dream doesn't affect your everyday life or carry on to the next day. In reality, every choice you make comes with a consequence or event that follows it. In a dream, the decision you make doesn't affect you directly when you wake up. 90% of your dreams are forgotten after ten minutes of waking up. There is also the theory that you can't get hurt or feel physical pain in a dream. If that's true, then an easy way to tell if you're dreaming is to simply pinch yourself. Also, if what we think is reality is actually a dream, then why can't we remember what happens in reality (or the dream?) And why would we need to go to sleep in order to return to a reality that we won't remember?

  36. #3

    Who ever would choose to use a machine to get for stuff that we are longing for or "need" have a problem. If that were to happen we would loose our drive to set goals and reach them. I for one would choose plain reality because of that. We all wish we had ceratin objects that we see on tv and hear about online. If we aloud ourselfs to be able to access to anything for free then what do we live for? what is out there for us to reach? there wont be any room for improvement in a persons ablitly to live and let learn. Anything free in this world through a machine is a killer and hopefully shouldnt happen.


  37. #4. When I was watching the movie I was confused. To be honest I am still confused. Was Cobb’s reality the true reality? Or were we suppose to think that the movie’s reality is a dream but we are thinking that we see the movies reality. Everything is confusing but if I think about it what Socrates say abut knowing nothing is a big deal for me. I think that you can never know what reality is and what isn’t. Just like in the movie where the people that were pulled into a dream don’t know that they are dreaming unless they are told. Every moment of the movie that I saw I doubted. First of all I honestly don’t know what was real and what wasn’t. As I think of it when Cobb returned to reality first n one from the dream recognized him and when her went back home his kids were still the same. I think that Cobb was in Mal’s dream and that he thought it was his reality. I didn’t think anyone’s dream was real or the reality in the movie was truly real. The movie itself ended in a doubt about the whole thing. I think that the guy who wrote the movie was a philosopher and he was trying t make us understand that what we might think is reality it might not be what another person thinks is reality. If he wasn’t trying to confuse us and make us think then why would the movie/director put a suspenseful ending for the viewers.

  38. 4. I think that this movie corresponds with the theories of skepticism, doubt and Socrates because the entire time, Mal and Cobb are trying to figure out what is truly their reality and Cobb is questioning which world is real for him and which one isn’t. He’s constantly doubting the reality of his world but also of limbo. But by the end of the movie, he’s still sure that limbo is not his reality and the Mal in limbo is not really his wife because it’s not his reality anymore so he must move on and continue to doubt what he doesn’t know and try to achieve the true reality. I’m not even sure if the movie’s reality is truly real because at the end the totem starts to slow down so I’m not sure if the director was intending that what had been portrayed as reality the whole movie actually wasn’t even the real reality. This makes it seem possible that us movie-viewers didn’t even see the real reality of the movie. Since the director keeps making us doubt and question thinks I think he could be a philosopher since the main goal of many philosophers in Sophie’s world is to get us to doubt things that we normally would have just taken for granted. The tendencies of the movie correspond exactly with philosophers’ theories of the need to always question things. But overall, we basically still aren’t sure what the movie’s reality is sine the director was such a clever philosopher that he kept us guessing even at the end.


  39. Question #2: How do we really know?

    I don’t think that there is anything that really allows us to know what reality actually is but there are signs that we can depend on in order to keep our sanity and not question everything. I think that one possible explanation for us in reality is our senses. When we touch, see, smell, taste or hear things you are using senses that are explained through science and not projected. One could argue that we are dreaming of science but in another context, why would we imagine ourselves getting hurt or smelling bad smells. Also when we are tired but don’t want to go to bed, why would our mind force us into sleep if we were only imagining.
    In the movie they really don’t know whether or not they are dreaming. They rely on the totems to tell them if they are in a dream but they could very well be in their own dream and projecting the totem to act how they want it to. Maybe they are in their own dream the whole time and for example when he spins the top, he imagines it falling over and so it does. This could counteract the whole idea of a totem. Its less likely for us to be in this situation because to our knowledge, we don’t know of anyway to immerse ourselves into dreams like those seen in the movie. If it is possible then we could be in one and it would completely kill my idea of senses explaining things.

    Willie Beattie

  40. #2) I do not think that we can tell what a dream and what is or not. In the movie Inception, they used a tote. But this method has a flaw. This method will only tell us if we are in someone elses dream. If you are the controller of your dream your totem will act as you know it should, telling you are not in a dream when in fact you are in a dream. The totem also can only tell you are currently in a dream. It does not answer the question asking if everything is a dream. If we are and have always been in a dream (brain in a vacuum). In fact I don't think there is anyway of telling if you are a brain in a vac or not. The way Cobb explains a dream is very similar to our reality. In a dream you do not remember how you got to were you are now. We do not remember being born and many of our first memories do not start until we are at least 3 or 4. I could technically be a wealthy business man stuck in a limbo. I may wake up one day in weird spot and realize it was all a dream, or worse yet wake up and not remember it. But what would you if you were to wake up and have this all be a dream. It would certainly be weird going through life for a second time. But for being in limbo so long when we awoke our minds would surely be mush anyway.

  41. I think that its very possible to tell whether you're dreaming or not. When you're dreaming you don't really have conscious control over what happens but when you're awake you can decide what actions you want and don't want to take. Also when you're dreaming you're subconscious is functioning, which is something you don't really have control over but when you're awake you have control over your conscious. In many situations you never really remember the dreams you have but it's easier for us to remember what we did each day. So I think it's actually very easy to be able to be able to know whether or not you are dreaming.

  42. 2. Rene Descartes' question - How - if at all - can we know whether the world we experience while we're awake is real or not? - really fries your noodle if you think about it too much. So I am asking you to apply this question not only to yourself (part 1) but to the movie (part 2). In the movie, the characters have totems to know whether or not they're dreaming. But we don't have them to help us out, so how do we truly know?

    I don't believe that we have a sure method of determining if we are dreaming or not. When you're dreaming you're very vulnerable and you don't have control over anything. The same argument could carry over to what we believe is reality. We don't know for sure if everything that we've been experiencing for the past 16, 17, or 18 years is really the 'real world'. For all we know, we could all be stuck in limbo or even in another person’s dream. How would we really be able to tell, being that we don't have a totem or any other concrete structure to tell us whether or not what we're experiencing is real or not

  43. I think Inception is a metaphor for skepticism/doubt because of the ambiguity of a good amount of the film both supports and contradicts. Ever since the film's premiere, people have asked a single, burning question: was it all a dream, or was it real? Now, in typical fashion, the director (Christopher Nolan) loaded the film with proof that supports both ends of the spectrum.

    Proof for Dream:
    - Cobb's children: throughout the entire film (even when he sees them in "reality"), James and Phillipa appear to have the exact same motions and clothes, and are in the same exact place when he finally sees them again.
    - Cobb stole his totem from Mal while they were in limbo. How can he know the true feel and weight?
    - Repeated phrases: "Leap of faith", "Waiting to die alone", the train riddle, etc.

    Proof for Reality:
    - If Cobb escaped Limbo with Mal before, why couldn't he escape again?
    - (In response to the first point above) It's never specified in the film when Mal died/when Cobb had to go on the run, so maybe it's only a few months old?
    - There is an obvious difference between the perfectly spinning totem found in a dream and the wobbly spinning top in the end of the film (however, this could be a metaphor for Cobb fighting to wake up?).
    - This one is a tad but nit-picky: If you watch closely throughout the film, you'll notice that the only time Cobb is wearing a wedding ring is when he's in a dream. Anytime reality is implied (including the end), he's not wearing a wedding ring.

    The point I'm trying to make here is that this entire film challenges you to doubt, analyze, and draw conclusions based on your perception (empiricism?).


  44. Ryan Williams
    3rd Hour

    Question #3 introduces Robert Nozick’s idea of “the experience machine”, a machine that would give us whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences that we could imagine, and asks if we would prefer to live in the “real world” or the experience machine world. If I had to make a choice I would choose to live in the real world. Even though the experience machine would be able to give me whatever I wanted, I feel that after awhile you would take things for granted. I think that the machines ability to make it so easy to attain everything you wanted would make attaining those things less enjoyable. One of the best parts of achieving something is knowing that the hard work that you put in to achieve that certain thing paid off, so the experience machine would take this whole aspect out of life. I also think the experience machine would kill motivation and eventually you would run out of things to do or achieve. Failure is good every once and awhile, It creates a greater drive in us to succeed and helps us out in the long run, in the experience machine there’s no failure because of this we wouldn’t be as motivated to succeed and do things. And also after you have all you ever wanted what do you do form there? Once you’ve attained everything you’ve ever wanted and achieved everything you wanted to achieve there’s really nothing else to do in life and I feel there’s no point in living after that. I think people who have achieved everything in the experience machine will eventually become sick and tired of this perfection and want to leave the machine. That’s why I would choose to live in the real world.


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