Dreams, Memes, and the movie Inception. Foresight, and a story Part 1

..In itself, the word “propaganda” has certain technical meanings which, like most things in this world, are “neither good nor bad but custom makes them so.” Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.

This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it, whether that enterprise be building a cathedral, endowing a university, marketing a moving picture, floating a large bond issue, or electing a president. Sometimes the effect on the public is created by a professional propagandist, sometimes by an amateur deputed for the job. The important thing is that it is universal and continuous; and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers…” – E. L. Bernays, social scientist, professional propagandist, and seminal public relations expert. In his 1928 book Propaganda.

Some random thoughts, sketched out, inspired by watching the movie, Inception.

A long time ago I saw a movie that haunted me intensely, it was Until the End of the World.
I first saw it in the early 90’s and the themes in the movie gnawed at my mind for years. One of the themes in particular fascinated me.

Is it possible to grow addicted to dreams?

Is it possible, that our dreams and fantasies may become almost like drugs to us. In fact, is not one reason to take certain drugs simply to dream, to find  a world of fantasy, to escape? What motivates many junkies, feeling good, feeling cool and chill, but what is it ultimately that smack, dope, pretty much anything offers?

Escape. And a forgetting. Is this not sad, that we need to consume something to escape or forget? Ah, we at least still have our dreams, we still have sleep. And what if I could offer to you your very dreams, vivid and boiling with color and sound, in a box, to you, whenever you wanted it? Or, at least, pleasant dreams of others?

Delusion is the misperception of reality, believing to exist what, in fact, does not exist.
This can be concrete, or it can be abstract.

You know, Reality is a pretty important. It’s a big deal. In fact, to Muslims, or at least educated ones, Reality is God. Allah is a pretty abstract concept, formless, essence, setting into motion and forming all things, and is not one of Allah’s chief names al-Haqq?

al-Haqq literally means the Real, it also means the Truth. Haqiqa is a reality.

Foresight. It is not as common as we may think.

In business the ability to see past the next couple of quarters is rare, most people react. A good chess player may be able to imagine a couple of moves in advance, but how many can imagine 3, or 4, or more? Foresight is a precious gift, those who underestimate it underestimate the source of much good.

Escape, people seek escape from suffering. What is mild suffering to one person may be debilitating to another, depending on how strong or weak we are in certain areas.

Some suffering is unavoidable and endemic to a specific place and time. Other suffering may be avoidable with foresight. Being grateful for not having to endure some suffering is a pretty good idea…

Some human situations appear to be dreams of unimaginable beauty, while others appear to be literal nightmares of suffering.

It’s popular to use the suffering of others as a guilt inducing flail. What people tend to call “a guilt trip”

I don’t. But I do like to cultivate an awareness of both the felicity, and the suffering, or others. Awareness is pretty important in the world, and to me some sense of compassion and understanding is critical.

Empathy is a high human ability, in fact I would say without empathy you lose much of what it means to be human.

Who is so inhuman that they cannot find in their hearts compassion for, say, an Iraqi woman, formerly educated and of a good family, suddenly poor beyond belief, her husband and son slaughtered, forced to pass through checkpoint after checkpoint, forced to begging or prostitution just eat.

Or a man who is arrested, kidnapped in effect, for speaking out against some government. Thrown into prison and isolated, his manhood electrocuted with jumper cables and a 12 volt battery, assaulted and raped by the guards with broken bottles, made to witness his family daughters and wife beaten in front of him, and raped in front of him, while he is helpless beaten and in chains. All for articulating dissent against injustice, and the while world stands by mute against his plight.

Or a child born sickly and diseased, her mother feeds her what little formula she can afford but mixed with water tainted by industrial waste, dumped in their village’s lake by entities who know full and well the effects, but simply do not care, born in a land of endemic starvation, her country’s elites consuming millions of dollars of aid sent to help little girls like herself, by idealistic well meaning people elsewhere in the world, her country literally looted by a regime of elites actually put in place and maintained by the governments of the very people who are kindly donating their money in the first place.

When you look at the world in a certain way, it really does look like a scam. A con job. A massive fraud.

This isn’t the only side to it. It is unhealthy to over focus on some things and not others. Either focusing exclusively on the positive, or the negative, is a diseased state. For it is delusion, an unwillingness to perceive reality as fully as we are capable.

Inception, the movie, was released last Friday. I decided to go see it after reading a couple of web based reviews.

It was very interesting and well done, I recommend it. There is something that flew over the head of just about everyone who reviewed it.

One basic premise of the movie is simply Memetic engineering. A couple of bloggers picked up on this, but no one seems to be looking at it in depth. Because it’s a complicated and dangerous topic I will not look at it in depth, but I did see fit to at least mention it to you.

Before I talk about it, let me tell you of a little story. I find it quite interesting. Before telling it I must warn you about the power of words, for they can reveal meanings, and conceal meanings, and especially with English words bear emotional connotations that can obscure their literal meaning and affect how we see things.

The story has validity – and the points in it can be worded in many different ways.
The power to name things – choosing the words I use to describe something can cause you to perceive it differently. I can describe something in one way, and you would perceive it scientifically, or another way and you would perceive it mythically, or rather mytho-poetically, another way and you would perceive it emotionally.

Put on your poker face, observe the minute details, and see the movement of the hands as the little walnut shells are moved in circles in front of you. What are you focusing on..

And what are you not focusing on, but should be?

There is a story – it’s an allegory don’t take it literally people – that Idries Shah retells, about a mighty King, a great Padishah whose dominion is spread over many lands.
Behold – the story:

This King is very skeptical man, but it is a surface only, ordinary, and somewhat conditioned knee jerk type of skepticism.

The King doubts that certain possibilities in life are even possible, a dervish arriving at his court weaves a sort of spell on the man, he finds himself in another country, having been bewitched (or so he thought) out of his court. He wanders around and discovers to his great horror..

That he has become a woman. Albeit a rather beautiful one. Disconcerted and confused he experiences many strange adventures, though from the vantage point of a woman (something of course that the King never would have been able to experience or consider) and eventually finds himself accustomed to his new fate, marries a poor man, becomes pregnant, bears a generation of children.

40 some years pass for him in this state, until he could no longer remember his former life as a King, That life became unto him as a dream, distant and hazy, something he recalled in flashes of memory but being too improbable, too unrealistic, to entertain. For after all, she was a simple mother and housewife, how could she have possibly been a king, in the prime of his maturity, master of a mighty kingdom.

And then, the situation changes once again. Something pulls him back into the palace where he finds himself, a King once more, in his court, surrounded by courtiers and the Dervish, whereupon he flies into a rage.

Wroth, he towers over the dervish, accusing him of sorcery, and moreover of injustice. Of destroying his life, and sending him into exile for a lifetime. And, of course, making him into a woman.

The Sufi then points out to the King that he must be deluded, after all, it has only been a few moments since they started to talk. He then suggests that there are things in the world far more profound, or strange, than the King would think, and that perhaps what the King thinks of as his life, is somewhat limited. Whereupon the dervish employs the science of “folding space” (ilmu tair al-makan) and literally steps off the tale, leaving we readers mystified.
Metaphor is important, whether the mystical science of “folding space” really exists is irrelevant. It makes a nifty literary conceit in Persian stories.

What goes without saying, though not mentioned in the account, is that there is more than one way to skin a cat..

Or a dervish. Or, for that matter, a king.

My favorite line from the movie  – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus:
“There’s no black magic, only cheap tricks”.

Of course,  what the clever Dervish induced in the King done can easily be performed with a few words, a few suggestions, and more easily with a few pharmaceuticals easily administered in a handshake, or a drink, or by other means.

“..There are more things in heaven and earth..”

But who is to say how what happened, in the logic of the tale, really happened? The how is open, the meaning is what is important.

Many of us, among the population in general, are highly suggestible. We often routinely slip in and out of mild trance states even whilst awake. What do you think is happening to you, after all, when you daydream? For a humanity lacking TV and movies, and the externalization of the imagination that occurs thereby, it is possible that profound dreams and fantasies can be verbally induced, especially with a drug or two slipped to the recipient.

Not everyone is that suggestible. In fact a certain ratio of the population are almost impossible to put under trance, and are only suggestible under the most extreme of conditions.

This is a statistical constant among people, a certain percentage are easily suggestible under the most trivial circumstances, a certain percentage need certain stimulus and conditions, but still may be put under a trance, and their perceptions managed, molded, hypnotized, and suggested with some ease, and a certain minority will always be very difficult to perform hypnosis on.

It has little to do with their native intelligence, of course. for some of the most brilliant people may be the most suggestible people, and some of the most dumb as rocks ones may have a very strong common sense insusceptibility to suggestion, AND vice versa.

Never make the mistake of thinking that by knowing how something might be done, you necessarily know how it was done, in a particular case. It does give you more room to speculate of course..

Once you think you know how a trick is done, you may be able to follow the trick, but since there are more than one way of skinning a trick, you can miss the point entirely.

Sometimes the medium is the message, or at least part of the message.

Lets speculate a little bit more.

Few consider that Erickson’s insights into conversational hypnosis aren’t new, they are simply re-discoveries (if even, Erickson was a profoundly well read man) of old knowledge of the human psyche. Many things modern thinkers think are knew, may actually just be re-discovery of things once taken for granted, that somehow slipped off the historical record.

..and what follows….

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