Monday, December 20, 2010

Inception Part 3 Totems, Memes, And Other Structures

Dreams and Memes? Is what the average person defines as reality really a projection of their beliefs and learned perceptions?

Cobb's "totem"

Most who here the term totem associate it with the Inuit people (wrongly called Eskimos). But a totem can be of any size and shape. Size and shape is not the critical aspect of them. Yet the totem poles that people associate with the term totem are not totems at all.** The word totem originated with the Native American Ojibwa tribe in North America. To them it represented an ancestor, a group of people, or an entire tribe. It has an unmistakable religious or spiritual connotation. Yet these totems have a very practical value. They are used to determine whether you are in your own dream or someone else's. Interesting enough, Tim Post in an article entitled Lucid Dreaming with Inception Totem states:
Testing whether you are now dreaming or not, relies on one main characteristic of the dream state: instability. Dreams are unstable. Much more unstable than waking life (for most of us ;-)). Minute by minute our dreams change and morph into different landscapes, with different people and different settings. Especially in relation to details. Since our working memory faculties in dreams are not as capable as in the waking state, our dreaming mind has much trouble in ‘holding on to’ any sensory details in the dream. Thus a proper and grounded Reality Test would be to make use of this inherent instability, pick something with much detail, and look at it for a while to see if anything changes by your own intention. If it does, you are most probably dreaming.
The reason why the word totem was used in the film is not clear, but perhaps in future sequels it will be.
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
Edgar Allen Poe
In contrast to the previous statement about the validity of totems to check for reality, does not agree. The writer goes through a list of items that will NOT work for checking to see if you are awake or asleep. One of these items is the totem concept in Inception:
If your mind knows how something works in waking life, there's a good chance that thing will behave the same way in your dreams. Nine times out of ten, a spinning top will wobble and topple over in your dream just as it would while you're awake. That makes the results of this technique inconsistent and unreliable...
The author has a separate article describing how you can check yourself during a dream.

People have experienced dreaming within a dream as we found in the testimony of this reader:
I’ve experienced intense “dreams within dreams” - with each level intensely realistic and solid, but always with something unusual going on. At times I have panicked trying to wake up from one dream, only to find myself in another, and so on constantly. it is difficult to describe the utterly real, or at least solid, intensity of these types of dreams.
Perhaps Edgar Allen Poe understood this when he wrote his masterpiece of a poem named, Dream Within A Dream. If you cannot see this youtube video here is the link:

Are the Ideas described in Inception Memes?
"What's the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules."
Many may not know what a meme is. The modern theory of Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, describes "ideas" that are resilient that can spread from brain to brain and become overwhelming cultural realities. The key to a meme being transferred from one mind to another is imitation or duplication. Memes can be ideas but they are not limited to that. They can be anything that can be copied or imitated. The theory has been criticized as being overly simplistic in nature by some members of the scientific community. But these memes do have a similarity to the "ideas" Cobb speaks about in the film.

If you cannot see the embedded TED video here is the link:

click to enlarge
For an interesting analysis of the different dream layers in the film Taylor Holmes has diagrammed it. There is an excellent discussion in another of Taylor Holmes's posts on details of the film here. Taylor is of the view that the entire movie is a dream, including the death of Cobb's wife Mal.

In our next installment in this series we will discuss how close modern science has gotten to the film Inception.

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