“Our dreams, they feel real while we’re in them right? Its only when we wake up then we realize that something was actually strange!” – Cobb, from Inception
“…most recent philosophers, since the Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, have concluded that scientific knowledge is systematic knowledge of the nature of existing things as we perceive them, rather than as they are in themselves.” – Wikipedia, on objectivity
What can we actually know? If I had a nickel for all the late night Denny’s coffee and cigarette conversations I’ve had with friends how we might simply be brains in a jar being stimulated with electrodes, or straight-jacketed droolers in a padded asylum cell next to Jervis Tetch, I’d have enough nickels to fill my brain jar AND that full body embryonic cell Neo crawls out of in The Matrix. As much as we pride ourselves on reason and rationalism, Inception surfaces how subjective our perception is. Working from either the character of Cobb or the perceptual limitations of the viewer, the film Inception toys with our limited perception to know anything with certainty in a way that mirrors real life.
Regarding any true objective knowledge or understanding of reality, “many scholars have now concluded the proper term lies closer to a collective subjectivity on what we all can agree to…” – again, Wikipedia
By this assertion, the best we can hope for are some collective, agreed upon perceptions about our universe – we can never know anything resembling ultimate or true objectivity. This brings into question our limitations in regard to observation, reason, and experience. Cobb believes he has created a simulcrum of his wife Mal, and notes, “I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.”
This is a fascinating statement because although it purports to address his human limitations… but how can he even be certain of this? What if he DID capture her perfectly? What if the dissatisfaction stems from the fact that he has over-idealized her?
Regarding Mal: “She locked away a secret, deep inside herself, something she once knew to be true… but chose to forget.”
Subjectivity is impacted by recognized instances of our own self-deception as well, which could be a facet of the film not just applicable to Mal but perhaps Cobb or other characters. Is it crazy to think, from a physical OR spiritual perspective, to think humans might have built-in collective deceptions? Might we collectively choose to reject certain stimuli, a flaw in our biology and/or spiritual nature, purposely interpreting it with seeming rationalism yet ultimately incorrectly? Mal makes a few more daring judgments against Cobb:
“You keep telling yourself what you know. But what do you believe? What do you feel?”
How hopeless is subjective perception – whether it’s based on our subjective reasoning capabilities, our emotion, or our faith – do we really know ANYONE, or simply our own perception of them? What if you woke up to a reality that unveiled everything you thought was important was ultimately immaterial, “vapor” – a chasing after the wind, subjective at best and meaningless at worst?
Inception – from its story to its seemingly frustrating ending – punctuates the fact that subjects of a story ultimately can’t know anything objectively. The film underscores this by treating the viewers as limited subjects as well instead of objective observers. Only someone in a true state of objectivity – our Storyteller, God – can know us fully and interact in a way the brings us to objectives truths, trust in the reality of His existence and ours, trust that He’s in control from the beginning of life’s story to it’s end… or it’s eternity.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Cartoon G.I. Joe platitudes ring with a bit of truth. Knowing may be half the battle, but our only hope of winning is if we are not only knowing, but known.