In Christopher Nolan’s incredible Inception, the notion is posited that planting an idea may not be possible because the mind will recognize it’s “inception” as foreign. One might easily take away that inception is something external whereas “true” inspiration is internal. Some might miss the obvious question: what is true inspiration?
(spoilers ahead – for less revealing and initial reviews on Inception, click here)
“I believe in intuition and inspiration. At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason.” – Albert Einstein, 1931
Is inspiration some internal light bulb that proves how awesome the human mind is? Not necessarily, or historically. We may assume in the modern world that our great ideas simply spring forth from a hardworking subconscious making connections we can’t, aided by a shower or those of us who “get our best ideas on the toilet”. However, you need go no further than Wikipedia to find that the word inspiration means “‘breathed upon.’ Greeks believed that inspiration came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Similarly, in the Ancient Norse religions, inspiration derives from the gods, such as Odin. Inspiration is also a divine matter in Hebrew poetics. In the Book of Amos the prophet speaks of being overwhelmed by God’s voice and compelled to speak.”
In the 18th century John Locke (isn’t he from LOST?) proposed a model of the human mind in which ideas associate or resonate with one another in the mind.
In the 19th century, Romantic poets such as Coleridge and Shelley believed that inspiration came to a poet because the poet was attuned to the (divine or mystical) “winds” and because the soul of the poet was able to receive such visions.
In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud located inspiration in the inner psyche of the artist. Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of inspiration suggests that an artist is one who was attuned to racial memory, which encoded the archetypes of the human mind.
In each view inspiration is, by its nature, viewed as beyond the control of a person.
It may be accurate in the film to clarify that the only argument being made is that humans can’t pull off inception on someone else very well. But before we leap to the reflexive view that “inspiration is internal”, it must be noted that most of the historical views of creative and artistic inspiration aren’t controlled by the person, NOR are they solely internal. External inclining forces are literally “mused” about, and the word itself implies something is breathing the inspiration upon us.
Where, then, do our bursts of creativity, our moments of clarity, our momentous life awakenings and those daring directional instances spring from? Some of the options are actually scary, as capricious “gods” or whimsical muses might inspire us for good or ill. And seriously, when we’re honest with ourselves, our own finite brain matter isn’t all that exciting or encouraging either. The movie itself even suggests that we have the ability to deceive ourselves; in some cases internal “inspiration” might be more damaging than external “inception”. The options that might be both true AND comforting are extremely small, unless they were incepted by the architect of everything and everyone around us, someone who also cared for us, loved us, and thus inspired us.
…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7
True inspiration is not an internal thing, and shouldn’t that be comforting? The biblical narrative illustrates that “inspiration” is derived from both past and present inception because we are born of inception, life breathed in by a loving God. He breathed life into us, and continues to breath upon us with blessed inspiration with a common grace, culminating in everything from the music we enjoy to the technology we create.
That isn’t to suggest all my “inspired inception” comes from God. Thanks to a seed of inception planted by a serpent, our design as image-bearers is compromised by sin; lies of the world, our flesh and the devil stimulate other instances of inception. We have enemies, and they may be both external OR internal (our own heart). We live lives fraught with inception, and Cobb’s response that it IS possible to fake is entirely correct. We’re inspired to decisions and directions that are destructive and detrimental to others; what feels like glorious or true inspiration may actually be a particularly wicked inception.
Ultimately, “true” inspiration comes from the one who is Truth incarnate. It’s equally external, but trustworthy – more trustworthy than minds left to their own devices. We don’t like to admit that most days, but it’s true. “Positive Inception” even plays out in the film, as Cobb’s team seemingly does wind up doing Robert Fischer a positive turn by inspiring a new course of action that benefits both his life, and the world entire.
Trustworthy, “true inspiration” then – the kind we should hope for in our lives – actually IS a form of inception and hinges not on whether it’s external or internal, but whether the source is trustworthy and true.