Monday, May 20, 2013

Our own version of Kant's Practical Postulates

Immanuel Kant thought that there should be some things that we should stop arguing about b/c they're assumptions that cannot be proven, but in order to for an argument to move forward, we should just confirm them.  They are called Practical Postulates and they are:
1. Man has an immortal soul;
2. God exists;
3. Man has free will. 

So, there were nine of us sitting around discussing this on Friday, and we came up w/ our version of Practical Postulates:
1. We exist;
2. Space is infinite;
3. Politicians lie;
4. Total agreement is impossible;
5. Our perceptions are limited by our senses;
6. Seniorities is real;
7. Dogs are better than cats. 

Enjoy. A 2009 study on how much better dogs are than cats.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Blog #64 - Inception Ideas

I've probably seen Inception a dozen times, and so to get a fresh perspective, I read chapters out of a book, Inception and Philosophy: Ideas to Die For

Here are a couple of ideas:
1. Philosopher Immanuel Kant says that both inception and extraction are immoral, despite your intentions, because because you (as the extractor) are violating the autonomy of the individual.  These actions disrespect humanity because your personal autonomy (or ability to control yourself, your thoughts, and actions) is a mark of your humanity, what makes you different than other animals in this world.  If someone has implanted an idea in your head, how can you be responsible for it or the actions that come from it? 

2. We've briefly discussed this idea before, but I'd like you to make the opposite case - I think that we've established that extraction of an idea from your mind, if at all possible like in the movie, was illegal or considered theft because it's your intellectual property.  But since this idea does not have a physical component, I'd say it's just an idea and not really real.  Therefore, there's no theft.  In order for an idea to have true value, it has to be implemented into action or manifested into something real in the physical world, not just the world of the mind.  Agree or disagree?  Why?

3. Ariadne acts like Cobb's therapist throughout the movie and helps him with the guilt that is sabotaging his dreams and memories.  In the first dream (Yusuf's, in the scene in the warehouse), Cobb tells her why he feels so guilty - because, after 50 years in Limbo, he had planted the idea in Mal's head that this world (Limbo) wasn't real and that they needed to kill themselves to get back to reality (being awake).  She brought this idea back with her into reality and flipped the idea around - her waking state was Limbo and that she needed to get back to reality (in her mind, Limbo).  My question for you is: is Ariadne practicing her own version of inception w/ Cobb by placing the ideas in his head that he needs to confront Mal's projection and rid himself of the guilt of her suicide (which he eventually succeeds in doing)?  Why or why not? 

4. Catharsis -- a concept first introduced to us by Aristotle (a purging or purification of the self or the transformation as a result of the catharsis), Cobb, Arthur and Eames have all talked about Fischer reaching a state of catharsis with his father so that their inception idea can take hold.  Reconciliation with positive emotion is much stronger, according to Cobb, than with a negative emotion.  So we see that Fischer is reconciled with his father at the end and decides to break up his company when he awakes from the kidnapping scene.  But, does Cobb reach his own catharsis when he finds that he's allowed into the United States and can finally see his children's faces again?  Throughout the movie, that's all he's ever wanted is to get back home to his kids, and the ending scene shows that reunion (with his children a couple of years older - I checked the credits - there are two different pairs of child actors).  But does this catharsis really happen because of the ending scene with the top?  Did the scene turn off before the top fell over? 
 - Cobb also has another scene of catharsis near the end in limbo when he says goodbye to Mal  "you're just a shade of my real wife..."
Here's a link to someone's interpretation of three different times when catharsis is used:

5. Movie - Making - Inception, as a film, is all a dream, but it's also an extended metaphor for filmmaker Christopher Nolan.  Like a dream, the movie is a shared dream for the audience and has its own rules and functions along those lines.  Some characters and scenes happen like dreams in which there seems to be no rhyme or reason: Mal comes out of a crowd and stabs Ariadne; the train in the first dream that blasts through downtown where there's no tracks; the elder Fischer's hospital bed in a huge vault inside of a mountain fortress; Cobb squeezing between an amazingly small gap of two buildings.   Mal even makes the case to Cobb at the end that he is in fact still stuck in a dream, with feelings of persecution (the authorities or Cobol's security forces), creeping doubts, and little remembrance of how he got there.   On another thought, the way the dream team works is similar to how a movie is made - they plan the scenes and sets down to the smallest details, always conscious of the audience (the dreamer's projections) and its reaction.  And, the way the movie ends with the cut scene of the top and then kicking into the music (Edith Piaf's haunting melody) as the credits roll is kind of like a dream because sometimes we are ripped out of a dream before its ending and we want to know how it ends.  Yet we can't go back.

 -- all of this is controlled by the master manipulator, the director, Christopher Nolan.  Everything in this movie is done for a reason.  Cobb is the director, Arthur is the producer who does the research, Ariadne the screenwriter when she acts as the architect, Eames is the actor and Yusuf is the technical guy that makes it all happen.  Saito is the money guy (also a producer) who finances the whole operation and Fischer is the audience who is taken for an exciting adventure by the director, Cobb.  Yet we are also the audience too, since this is a movie.  Arthur mentions continuously that they cannot mess with the dream too much, otherwise the dreamer knows something is wrong.  The same can be said for movies - when there's too much fakery or interference from the director, we as the audience snap out of the trance that the movie is weaving for us and see the movie for what it is.  We lose ourselves in well-made movies b/c we're not paying attention to the poor acting or screenwriting or plotholes or ridiculous scenes.  We care about the characters and want to see a satisfying resolution.   And so Cobb, as the director, makes an amazing movie, but also brings part of himself into the movie (Mal) which can influence the audience (she shoots Fischer in the 3rd dream).  Most of the jarring scenes in Inception include Mal.  And it's Mal who questions Cobb and raises doubt as to his true purpose. 

 - And since the movie is like a dream, it has planted the idea of itself in the mind of the movie audience as well - is this a movie or was the whole thing a dream?  This is where the movie becomes almost a meta-movie; it is Christopher Nolan dreaming about Cobb.

Pick two of these questions to answer by Monday, May 13 by class time. 
300 words minimum for your total answer. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blog #62 - Reactions to Henry Poole is Here

Pick one of the following topics and write about it based on your own personal experience 

1. You can’t go to the past to fix the present.” - Esperanza said when Henry visited his parents' house. Agree or disagree? Why?

2. Noam Chomsky said: "As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss" 1.

Patience quotes him in the movie, and then follows it up with these lines: "It means that not everything needs an explanation. Sometimes, things happen b/c we choose for them to happen. I chose to believe."

Is she saying that because she believed the miracle on Henry's wall to be true, then that made it true? Or is she saying something else? If you could choose for one thing to come true / exist, what would that be and why?
3. During the dinner date, Dawn said to Henry as he tried backing away from getting closer to her was: "I know you're gonna die. But all that either of us have is right now, and we should pay attention to that." We talked today about how Henry might be feeling selfish and keeping people out w/ the way he's acting. But when he said, "I am paying attention." And that's why he can't do this (meaning fall for Dawn, go where the date will eventually lead ). Did Henry stop being selfish there for a moment? Or did he revert back to himself again? Why?

4. I get the feeling that Henry senses that there are greater forces at work, somehow helping him, coming to heal him, yet he feels unworthy of this sense of grace. Why he feels unworthy, I don't know. Maybe it's not unworthy, maybe it's pride or stubbornness in his own beliefs that life has just dealt him an awful hand. Maybe he has accepted this fate, for lack of a better word, and decided to deal with it in his own way despite a higher power demanding an audience. What do you think of this idea?

5. There's got to be a reason why Patience is named Patience. What about the name Esperanza? It's Spanish for Hope. what made me think about Hope (besides the Obama-themed poster of Henry) was when he was about to destroy the wall and he yelled, "Hope can't save you!" And the last of the virtues would be Love symbolized by Dawn and Faith by Millie (who was the first one to test the validity of the wall).

Henry, on the other hand, would symbolize the seven deadly sins - sloth, gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy and pride. A stretch? Maybe. How would he symbolize the seven?

6. Do you think Henry symbolizes Descartes' skepticism of one's senses?  Or does Henry go beyond that to a total skepticism of everything: religion, senses, peoples' good intentions, etc. until he finally discovers that he's not going to die?  Why?

7. "Everything happens for a reason."  When Esperanza talks to Henry about her old boyfriend, Leo, and how that she prayed to God to give her a sign that Leo was o.k., how does the sign on Henry's wall signify an answer to her prayers?  

Due Thursday, April 25 by class.  (200 words minimum).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Blog #61 - Fate and Free Will in the Matrix

After watching The Matrix this semester for what seems the umpteenth time, I was searching for something new to talk about.  This time, as with all good art, we can gather something new from it upon repeat viewings.

My question is: where do you see fate and / or free will in the movie?

Neo seems to disagree with the concept of fate (or the more technical term, determinism) "I don't like to think that I'm not in control of my life."  In fact, he seems to use free will by choosing the blue pill over the red pill when Morpheus gives him the options.

There are other scenes where Morpheus seems to give Neo choices - "I'm just trying to show you the door.  You're the one who has to walk through it" -  right before they go to visit the Oracle.  Morpheus also seems to make the choice to sacrifice himself when the agents attack the group in order to capture Neo.  Also, Neo appears to make the choice to go back into the Matrix to save Morpheus.  Even the Oracle tells Neo, "you don't believe in all that fate crap.  You're in control of your own life."

But, I think that all of these "choices" are fated to happen because of a number of factors, many of which can be traced back to the Oracle's prophecies:
1. Morpheus believes so strongly in the prophecy that he would be the person to find The One that he sacrificed himself to the agents.  "I did what I did because I had to.  I did what I did because I believe that search is over."
2. Neo would have chosen the red pill because of his natural curiosity, his inner determinism, that drove him to find the answers to the questions burrowing in his brain;

3. Trinity, Apoc, Tank and the others of the Nebuchadezzar follow Morpheus wherever he believes they need to go, even if it means their deaths.
4. The Matrix is, in fact, slavery - a contentment program for those who power the machines.  There are no choices to be made b/c the people that live in reality carefully choose those who seem to be discontent with their lives.

Cypher is the only character who has made a choice of free will when he decides to betray Morpheus and Neo.  He has lived in the "real world" for nine years and chooses to go back into the Matrix (though Agent Smith would most likely kill him regardless of the promise), because he feels discontent with Morpheus, his promises, and his need for mindless enjoyment (the steak).

Your question: Agree or disagree with the fate/ free will assertion in The Matrix?  Why?  If you believe that there is some element of free will that I have overlooked, please let me know.

250 words minimum.  Due Tuesday, April 16.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

#60 Criticism of Top Western Philosophers

n the article, "Philosophy 101," we surveyed six major philosophers and came up with some modern-day applications / examples of their ideas. What you should do with this blog is review their ideas and pick which one best suits your own personal outlook on life or views about the world. The link to the grid notes we took on the board is here:

I. Ancient Greece 

A. Plato - he believed in the idea of the perfect form, that there is a perfect concept for everything (person, horse, chair, etc.) and that everything manmade or natural on Earth is an imperfect copy of that perfect form (In the picture to the left, you have a photo of a chair, a definition of a chair printed out, and an actual chair - each one is a chair but they each have different degrees of reality to them - the farther away from the ideal form they are, the less perfect they are). 

- Plato felt that achieving this perfection would be impossible but it would be important to live a good life by striving for perfection. 

B. Aristotle - Some of his ideas included deductive reasoning (that we might see in cop/mystery movies or forensics TV shows), the Golden Mean (choosing between two extremes), and the feelings of catharsis or an emotional cleansing. Aristotle was also one of the first true scientists of the ancient era who had the means to study and catalogue numerous plants and animals. 

- With the Golden Mean, Aristotle might feel today that a balance should be struck somewhere between being totally in touch with one's friends through social networking and cutting one's self off completely. 

- Here's an interesting website about a concept called the Overton Window - the points along the scale (if you mapped out the spots between one extreme and another) at which the public is willing to accept an option. 

II. Modern Philosophy 

C. Rene Descartes - He is the father of modern philosophy and started many snowballs rolling downhill, but the one we focused on here was the idea of dualism, the mind and body are separate and not linked. An example the article gave was that if you died in a dream, you wouldn't die in actuality. Movies like The Matrix and Inception deal fully with this mind / body dualism. Descartes is also known for the statement "I think, therefore I am" in which in order to exist, you must first think. Quite a concept! (See link for a further elaboration on different types of dualism).

D. David Hume - This Scottish philosopher improved upon some of Descares' ideas like skepticism (that we cannot truly ever be sure of something b/c it might not reoccur - the article uses the example of a bottle breaking when knocked off of a table). Part of the reason that this type of skepticism exists is b/c of the randomness of life and the infinite number of variables that play into it (later to be called the chaos theory in Jurassic Park or the butterfly effect). Lastly, there's the post hoc fallacy, or to believe that because we see two things occur together, one must have caused the other. Let us say that one morning I get up and turn my coffee machine on, but at the same time, the dishwasher starts up. Does that mean that X (turning coffee machine on) causes Y (dishwasher turns on)? No, not necessarily. 

E. Immanuel Kant - One of his biggest ideas was the categorical imperative, or in other words, putting yourself to a moral test for each of your actions. You should consider what would happen if everyone followed your course of actions and how that would impact society. Applying this standard to all of your actions would be the key to living a righteous life. 

- Also, perception matters, and it differs for everyone. We can never fully perceive what we perceive b/c we are not that object which we perceive. 

F. Georg Hegel - Hegel had an idea that had been around for awhile but he refined it to something called absolute spirit - a network that connected every thing to ideas, people and other things around the universe. Hegel also came up with an idea called zeitgeist(German for time-spirit) where peoples' thoughts are guided by the political and cultural atmosphere of a specific time in history. For instance, our time period represented the angry Populist revolt of the Tea Party. 

Your Job: Pick one of these philosophers and critique his major ideas.  Make sure you include some details and explanation in your response. Feel free to use the article, "Philosophy 101."

Due Monday, March 25.  200 words minimum response. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Blog #59 - Examined Life philosophers

Out of the several philosophers that we saw in The Examined Life, which of them seemed:
1. To have the most appealing outlooks on life;
2. To have the least appealing (or comprehensible) views of life?

In summary, here they are in order of appearance in the film:
1. Cornel West - Harvard and Princeton educated, Dr. West has spent the majority of his studies examining race, gender, and class in American society.  He is considered a "neopragmatist", similar to that of William James' pragmatism (something has value if it works), where language is the primary vehicle for understanding the world and trying to make meaning from it.  He has called himself a "non-Marxist socialist" primarily because he's a religious person and cannot reconcile the fact that Marxism dismisses religion.  He also tends to be suspicious of all forms of authority, because they can lead to tyranny and / or abuse.  One of his latest books is called Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism

2. Avital Ronell - her parents were Israeli diplomats and she was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia.  She is a professor of German language in New York and has translated French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his earliest works introduced into America.  She follows a school of philosophy called Deconstructionism where she tries to discover the underlying meanings of words and language.  She feels that " language is a material that cannot not interrupt, suspend, resist, exceed, and otherwise trip up the very message it is charged to deliver," because "words can go AWOL (absent without leave" or in many instances, be misunderstood or misinterpreted by the listener / reader.  In many respects, this problem with language has led her to believe that there are no guiding Truths.  One of her latest books is called Stupidity.

3. Peter Singer - an Australian philosopher who has become very popular with his most well known for his strong moral beliefs about animals and eating meat.  He is opposed to animal experimentation as well as eating meat.  He follows in the school of Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham) which tries to maximize the greatest good for the largest number of people.  He also feels very strongly that the wealthy have an obligation to provide help for those in extreme poverty (remember the $200 pair of shoes ruined to save a drowning child).  On his own website, he claims to give 25% of his income to non-profit groups that are devoted to the poor.  His latest book is The Life You Can Save

4. Kwame Anthony Appiah - as mentioned in the film, he's the product of a Ghanian father and an English mother, he studied at Cambridge and has taught at some of the top universities in the U.S.  His studies have included examining the intellectual history of African Americans and he also deals with language and semantics - the underlying meanings of words.  In the segment we watched, Appiah talked about our notion of identity in a multicultural world.  He doesn't believe that race should form your identity, but that we should look for universalities between us to do that.  Forbes Magazine named him one of the Top Seven Most Powerful Thinkers in the world - Judith Butler is also on this list as well.  Appiah's latest book is called The Honor Code

5. Martha Nussbaum - is a professor at the University of Chicago with an interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy along with concerns over feminism, political philosophy and morality.  From ancient Greek and Roman philosophies, she has explored the idea of neo-Stoicism which acknowledges that things outside of our control have a great influence on us.  She has also tried to draw attention to the political and gender inequality and the lack of opportunities for women.  She's a strong believer in inclusion of other cultures and feels that those who promote Western culture (our culture) at the expense of others is paternalistic.  In the field of moral psychology, she wrote that emotions like shame and disgust are legitimate emotions to use to make legal judgments.  Her latest book is The New Religious Intolerance.

6. Michael Hardt - Hardt is a political philosopher from Duke University who was born in 1960.  As he mentioned in the film, he spent time in Latin America during the 1980s learning from the Marxist political movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador.  He has criticized globalization and sees it as a form of American imperialism.  Nations' power to control their own destiny has declined as American (and European) companies have expanded to control various aspects of developing countries' resources.  His major work, written with Antonio Negri, is called Empire.  Globalization has spawned new forms of racism and cultural change, and that the focus of political power has shifted from governments to corporations.  This shift is less democratic because there's very little if any recourse to stop / control these corporations.

7. Slavoj Zizek - Zizek is a neo-Marxist and has been considered the "hippest philosopher in Europe" by many and also called "the Elvis of philosophy."  He hails from Slovenia and has written many books.  He tends to provoke with his statements, like comparing Julian Assange to Mahatma Gandhi.  He rarely gives straightforward answers to questions: "I like to complicate issues. I hate simple narratives. I suspect them. This is my automatic reaction."  He is also an athiest and has written extensively on movies, violence, and other topics.  He apparently wrote a review of Avatar first w/o having actually seen it first: "I'm a good Hegelian.  If you have a good theory, forget about the reality."  His primary influence is philosopher Jacques Lacan.  One of his latest book is Living in the End Times.  

8. Judith Butler - is currently a professor of rhetoric and literature at the University of Berkeley, California.  One of her primary philosophical keys is gender studies and how sex and gender roles are flexible or shouldn't be as confining as we tend to see them in our society.  Gender identity does not necessarily reflect who are in our "inner core" - meaning, that just because we are men or women does NOT mean that we should be bound by those male and female roles.  Gender is supposed to be a secondary characteristic to who are, not a primary one.  Also, her political philosophy has been influenced by her religion, Judaism, and she believes in a "Judaism that is not associated with state violence," and has said that Israel does not represent all Jews.  As mentioned in the segment on Appiah, Forbes named her one of the top seven thinkers in the world and she has been called "a big-deal academic, ... and oft-cited academic superstar...the most famous feminist philosopher in the United States," "the queer theorist par excellence," and "the most brilliantly eclectic theorist of sexuality in recent years."  Her most popular book has been Gender Trouble.  

This blog will be due by Monday night (March 11) by 11:59 p.m.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Blog #58 - Take one thing away from our world...

After watching The Invention of Lying on Thurs. and Fri., we discussed what the true intentions of the movie were.
  • Was it trying to show us that lying has its good points (little white lies, brutal honesty that numbs us to those in trouble around us, insults that should be better left unsaid)?;
  • Was it a critique of religion as false hope? When Mark was on a TV interview show for a brief second at Anna's house, he looked and sounded like just another televangelist;
  • Or did it show, even if religion may be a false hope (in the moviemakers' eyes), that hope is worth believing in b/c it gives the people in this world that their lives weren't for nothing (you're a loser on Earth and now you'll be rotting in the ground - geez, what's the point of life then? Look at Jonah Hill's character and his insistent research into suicide);
  • Did the filmmakers add deliberate philosophical tie-ins with Nietzsche (bending reality to fit to one's will and lying creatively) or Christianity w/ Mark acting as a stand-in for God when he gave Anna the chance to love him on her own accord a few times (much like the Christian scholars have said that God gave mankind free will so that we can love Him on our own accord)? Though, I'm not sure what Mark sees in Anna...

So, your job is to think about something, just one single thing, that you would remove from our world in order to create a parallel world like the one in the movie so that this parallel world would somehow be better than our world.

Explain how your new world would be different, and try to be imaginative by thinking of both the positives and negatives. Don't be discouraged if someone has already taken your idea. Build on what they've already written or go off in a different direction or rethink your approach.
Try to stick to one thing - I know it will be difficult, but please try. 
250 words by Monday, March 4 by class. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blog #57 - Nietzsche's Philosophy

According to French philosopher, Luc Ferry, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche is the zenith or pinnacle of Postmodern thought.  By this, Ferry means that Nietzsche tried to destroy two modernist convictions: 1. the belief that mankind is at the center of our moral and political world; 2. reason is the "irresistible force for emancipation and progress...we are going to become ever freer and happier (Ferry)."

"Improve mankind?  That is the last thing that I of all people will promise to do.  Don't expect new idols from me; let the old idols learn what it costs to have feet of clay.  To overthrow idols - my world for "ideals" - that rather is my business" - Nietzsche

Before the Enlightenment, modern science (by modern, I mean heliocentric world, Copernicus and onward) had taken away a lot of the mystery of the cosmos and also weakened religious authority by giving us explanations for why things occurred.  During the Enlightenment, we read that some of the leading thinkers became deists (belief in the clockmaker God) because they had a difficult time believing in God who intervened in human affairs.  Democracy and freedom were the ways of the future and considered signs of progress. 

"God is dead" - religion
Nietzsche, on the other hand, was ready to destroy.  he felt that all ideals, religious or other-wise, insisted on assuming a here-after that is better than what we have now.  Conservatives would be skewered by Nietzsche because they believe that we can learn from the past to improve tomorrow.  Liberals would also fall under Nietzsche's hammer because they tend to foster progress as a goal for a better, future society.   For FN, nothing exists outside our reality, no heaven or hell, and all of our ideals - he feels - of politics, ethics, and religion are "fables that turn their back on life prior to turning against life (Ferry)."  He is famous for stating "God is dead" because he felt that we can't learn anything from religion.  He is not a systems builder like Plato, Descartes, or Berkeley.  He is a systems destroyer for the sake of making a stronger society that doesn't coddle the weak or follow the herd mentality. 

Behind every value and every ideal, Nietzsche found hidden judgements.  There is no objective or disinterested view point b/c everything, everyone has a bias from which they judge life.  All of our "judgements, all our utterances, all the sentences we employ, all our ideas, are expressions of our vital energies, emanations of our inner life and in no sense abstract entities, autonomous and independent of the forces within (Ferry)."  And since philosophers want to examine what's behind the curtain, what they will find, in FN's opinion, is a void. 

"There are no facts, only interpretations" - Nietzsche
Art and the Meaning of Life
Since there's a void or an abyss that Nietzsche talks of, trying to impose reason on this chaos of varying opinions and values is a waste of time.  One of the only ways to make sense of the world is to be creative, to construct your life as a piece of art.  For him, self-expression was the meaning of life.  More important than reason were passion, love of adventure, artistic creativity, and an effort to go beyond rational principles.  If a creative individual rejects the disintegration and decadence of modern society, the rules of that society should no longer apply.  There's no need to justify an artist's principles, because he / she is attempting to refute the works of art that came before him/her. 

Lastly, Nietzsche's philosophy includes something called a master - slave morality.  Published in The Genealogy of Morality, he says that we've forgotten the morality of the past, where things used to be judged by the consequences of an action, and not the utilitarian idea of whether or not an action is useful.  Master morality is determined by what is noble, courageous, truthfulness and creativity - that is good.  What is bad in the Master Morality is weak, cowardly, timid, and petty.  The noble man knows morals as "what is harmful to me is harmful to society." 

Slave morality, on the other hand, is a reaction to oppression, it villanizes the oppressors and in many ways is the opposite of master morality. Slave morality is pessimistic and cynical and tries to subvert master morality.  What is best for the society is "good," not what is good for the strong.  Christianity and democracy are part of this slave morality -- turning the other cheek, humility, charity, and pity.  Since the strong and noble are few in numbers, according to Nietzsche, the slaves / weak convince them that slavery is wrong.  Democracy is the high point of slave morality b/c of its "obsession" with equality and freedom. 

Pick one of the three areas that Nietzsche expounds upon (religion, art/meaning of life, and morality) and discuss whether or not you agree with him and why.  Some of these positions have pitfalls if they're applied today, but maybe that's what he wanted. 

Due Friday night by 11:59 p.m. (February 15th).
250 words minimum. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Blog #56 - Interpretations of Inception

Here are several interepretations of the movie.  Your job is to read over the blog and pick two to talk about.  You don't have to agree with them: you can pick them apart with evidence from the movie. 

Questions to choose from (pick two):

1. Near the end, Mal (or her projection) in limbo makes a pretty good case that Cobb is lost in his own dream and can't tell one reality from another. Do you think that this is a plausible alternative?  Why or why not? 

2. This blog from outlines six different interpretations of the film (and also five plot holes - see next question). Read it for more details on each of the six interpretations, but I'll just list each of them below. We have talked about some of them in class.

** If you decide to tackle more than one interpretation of Inception, this will count as your two questions.

a. All of Inception is a dream - are we ever really shown reality? Whose dream is it, anyway?

b. Everything after the test sedation is a dream - after Yusuf's chemical test, do we see Cobb spin his totem and see it fall properly?

c. Saito is the architect and pulls a Mr. Charles gambit on Cobb - instead of a job audition like Saito said, maybe Saito is trying to extract something from Cobb?

d. Ariadne is Cobb's therapist trying to help him get over Mal's death - This is an interesting and plausible take on the movie - found here

e. We do see reality in the movie (first train ride in Japan, Paris, Mombasa), but Cobb is in a dream at the end - could this explain why the totem never falls at the end of the movie? This interpretation apparently hinges on the idea that the children don't appear to have aged. Plus, we don't see how Saito and Cobb get out of limbo.

f. What we see is what we get - that we are presented with a reality at the beginning of the movie (train ride in Japan) and that Cobb is back in the U.S. at the end of the movie.

3. What do you think were the movie's biggest plot holes? We had discussed a few, and I wasn't satisfied with a couple of the answers - which sounded like filmmakers' excuses instead of decent rationales. Provide one or two examples (you might want to read the blog link mentioned at the beginning of question #2 to help you out if you forgot) and explain how these holes do or don't affect the movie.

4. Evil genius theory - we had discussed this in class and it didn't get much traction, but I wonder if it's possible to show that either Saito, Mal or Cobb could be the evil genius manipulating everything we're seeing. Or could it be the film maker Christopher Nolan?

5. Is Inception really just an extended metaphor for films? In a previous blog from last semester, I posted a link from Wired, and I traced it back to its source, so I'll quote the author's take on Nolan's film:
"The film is a metaphor for the way that Nolan as a director works, and what he’s ultimately saying is that the catharsis found in a dream is as real as the catharsis found in a movie is as real as the catharsis found in life. Inception is about making movies, and cinema is the shared dream that truly interests the director."

Here's a link to the whole post:

My question is, do you buy this interpretation of the movie? Why or why not? What kind of implication does it have for us as film watchers - this shared "dream space" of watching a movie together? Did Christopher Nolan just perform inception on all of us because it's now an idea, like a parasite that won't go away? :)

6. Comparing the dream/reality rules in Inception and (if you've seen) The Matrix, why do you think they're vastly different? How does Descartes' dualistic theory about the mind and body being separated work for one movie but not the other?

7. When Saito asks Cobb to take a leap of faith, he's asking Cobb to believe in him and Saito's ability to fix Cobb's problems. In some ways, Saito almost acts like a deity in this movie because through him, almost everything is engineered to work. He is the Prime Mover or causal agent - Cobb and his team are sent on their mission because they failed to extract vital info from Saito for Cobol Engineering. They are tasked to help destroy Saito's biggest competitor (Fischer), and when it's all said and done, Saito returns from limbo after many many years (remember, Mal and Cobb didn't look like they had aged when the train ran them over after just 50 yrs together, but Saito was wrinkled and withered) and supposedly sweeps away Cobb's murder warrant. What is Saito, really? Is he just a very powerful man or is he something else? Why?

8. Those of you with AP Psych experience, help us out on some of the brain / dream logistics. The way that they explain the dream rules in the movie sound plausible, but what is realistic w/ regards to dreams? Shared dream space isn't possible, is it? Any other psych insights would be greatly appreciated here.

9. Arthur mentioned it briefly on how the technology for the shared dreaming was created - by the military so that soldiers could fight/kill each other without truly maiming themselves in reality. Plus, the character played by Michael Caine, Mal's father, seems to have been the one who taught Cobb how to do what he could do. In many ways, I sense the hints of a "prequel," not a sequel for this movie. Unlike the Matrix (which probably should have been left alone instead of having 2 sequels), it might be interesting to explore how the technology for this type of thing was developed and most likely stolen. If it takes 10 years in between movies like it did with Toy Story or Tron, then so be it. What kinds of possibilities do you see in a prequel or, even if you don't agree with me, a sequel?

Some additional points and counterpoints to theories in the movie -

Due Friday, January 18, 2013 by class.  300 words minimum total for both interpretations.