Recently, ABC News asked me to comment on Christopher Nolan’s new movie Inception, since it involves lucid dreamers who “extract” information from other dreamers. Because it’s impossible to do the movie justice in a 15-second sound bite, here’s my list of ten things I like about Inception.
1. “Dreams, they feel real while we’re in them,” Inception’s main character, Cobb, says. It’s a simple point, but an important one. As Inception’s newest student, Ariadne, learns, the assumed reality of our experience, waking or dreaming, seems to us compellingly real. It’s only when the street disintegrates that we question reality. Just a few nights ago a dream figure asked me, “How do you know you’re not sleeping right now?” I blew him off for asking such a sophomoric question – and woke up in my bed.
2. Inception illustrates the way in which expectations operate in the dream state. Cut your finger in a lucid dream and you’ll feel pain – unless you actively expect otherwise. Even in lucid dreams we carry with us the idea of physical senses. Yet there is an escape clause: the mind’s expectation about what it experiences. To feel pain in a lucid dream, you must mentally believe in it. No belief, no pain.
3. The brilliant creativity accessible to lucid dreamers shines through Inception like the sun – and is equally taken for granted. Many lucid-dreaming painters, novelists, song writers, programmers and engineers access their Muse while consciously aware in the dream state, and marvel at its beauty and creativity. When you lucidly knock on the door of your subconscious, Creativity opens it.
4. Inception offers a cautionary tale. Lucid-dreamer Cobb fails to resolve major personal issues and they prove to be his undoing. Dream-architect Ariadne repeatedly begs Cobb to deal constructively with his guilt and grief; instead, he both avoids and befriends his guilt and grief, and it accompanies him in each layer of the mind. Cobb fails to learn the fundamental psychological lesson of lucid dreaming: No matter where you go, there you are.
6. Inception shows us how the subconscious becomes distorted in the hands of a psychologically wounded lucid dreamer who accumulates increasingly complex karmic wounds. Whatever else you may think, lucid dreaming remains, fundamentally, a spiritual journey. Until you clear away the emotional and psychic debris and misperceptions, they distort your view, your understanding and the lucid landscape. Only then do you see that lucid dreaming follows a spiritual path of extraordinary beauty, complexity and depth.
7. Inception illustrates what most experienced lucid dreamers know: layers of lucid awareness exist. While Inception relies on the “dream within a dream within a dream…” metaphor, some lucid dreamers have moved to other levels of consciousness. How? Well, they didn’t use Inception’s fantasy device, PASIV; rather, they did it the old fashioned way: they used the power of the mind. Next time you’re lucid dreaming, shout out, “I want to go to the next level!” and see what happens.
8. Inception hints at, but never asks, “How would society respond if technology offered a drug and device that would place you with others in a stable lucid dream?” What would you give for a few hours in a shared Holodeck, lucidly aware with friends? I can only speculate, but a chemical compound that creates stable lucid dreams may be discovered in our lifetime. Science fiction seems headed toward science fact.
9. Inception presents us with something lucid dreamers grind their metaphysical teeth on: another type of reality. Sure, physical reality has physical pleasures: peaches, watermelons, Lady Gaga. But physical reality also has death, taxes and lutefisk. Lucid dreaming offers whatever you expect and more in a mental reality; except that it’s not real. Or is it? If you wander outside of Plato’s physical cave and stumble into Plato’s lucid dream cave, what becomes of reality?
10. I like Inception for bringing up these reality-checking ideas, these “How do I know that I know” questions that push thousands of lucid dreamers like myself to go deeper and deeper, to play lucid dreaming reality off of so-called physical reality, and to experience, behind it all, the unseen Architect, the “awareness behind the dream” that I discuss in my book.
So these are the 10 reasons I like Inception. Hey, wait a minute. There are only nine reasons here. My software arbitrarily removed #5-no kidding. I guess that’s the final reason I like Inception: the minor details and anomalies our awareness floats over and fills in reminds us of the mentally “created” aspect of apparent physical reality. Who knows, maybe we’re dreaming, right now, but our assumptions blind us to the anomalies that would set us free.