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  • >>Male Presenter: Kyle Johnson is here to talk about "Inception and Philosophy." He's

  • the editor of the book, among--. He's also the frequent contributor to other volumes

  • of the Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture series, including Heroes in Philosophy. And

  • he's here to talk today about Inception and why--. What's the premise of the--?

  • >>Kyle Johnson: It should've won Best Picture.

  • >>Male Presenter: Why Inception should've won Best Picture. It's a very cogently argued

  • philosophical argument, which I think you will all enjoy. And without further ado, let's

  • welcome Kyle to Google.

  • [applause]

  • >>Kyle Johnson: Thank you very much, Tyler. So, just to make sure, who's seen Inception?

  • Good. All right. 'Cause if you haven't seen it, you almost can't spoil Inception because

  • it's unclear what's going on in Inception, right? So, there's no ending to spoil necessarily.

  • But what I do wanna argue today is that Inception should have won Best Picture. And I should

  • warn you that there's gonna be a lot of stuff flying at you here. The words on the slides

  • are really for my benefit. The pictures are for your benefit, so don't feel like you need

  • to read everything.

  • The Power Point is designed such that you can just go through the Power Point by yourself

  • and understand it. So, don't be overwhelmed by some text-heavy slides as it were. But

  • I'm going to argue that Inception should've won Best Picture. Now, I really don't actually

  • care that much about whether or not it won Best Picture.

  • Like, I wasn't crying the night the Oscars were on, whenever it didn't win. But the reason

  • I think it didn't win is because the Academy didn't understand it. I think it went right

  • over their heads.

  • [laughter]

  • And so what I'm really attempting to do here is I'm attempting to explain, by telling you

  • why it should've won, I'm going to explain the movie. I'm gonna help you understand the

  • movie about what it was about, about even what happened in it. Like, what actually is

  • going on in the plot.

  • And I'm gonna show you how philosophy can help you understand the movie. And I think

  • maybe you can even really truly understand the movie without it. And so, that's a lot

  • of what the book tries to do is help you use philosophy to understand Inception. And then,

  • once you understand it, we go off and we explore other philosophical issues that are raised

  • by the movie.

  • So, some things that they may have missed. One thing that the Academy probably missed

  • about Inception was that the movie itself is an analogy--it's an allegory--for movie-making.

  • That the dream team, each element of the dream team has an analogous element to those who

  • make a movie.

  • So, Cobb, who orchestrates everything, he's the director. Ariadne, who designs the dreams,

  • she's the screen-writer. Saito, who bankrolls the whole thing, who buys the whole airline

  • instead of just buying out first class, he's the production company. He's the bankroll.

  • Arthur, who organizes everything. He's the producer. Eames, who puts on characters--literally

  • portrays the sexy blonde--or Browning, the Godfather, he's the actor. Yusuf, who has

  • the technical savvy to chemically concoct the chemical they use to put themselves under

  • to make the whole thing possible, he's special effects. Fischer, the mark, he's the audience.

  • And we even see things like this, where we see Eames as Browning. You see Eames in the

  • mirror there. He's actually sitting at an old-time vanity mirror like an actor would.

  • And so, we have this direct analogy with movie-making itself where Inception is actually an analogy

  • for movie-making itself. Here's something else that they probably missed.

  • [music plays]

  • I believe it was Hans Zimmer who did the music for Inception, has admitted in interviews

  • that it's not just the intro. Every piece of music all the way throughout the film is

  • based on different parts of that Edith Piaf track, either sped up or slowed down to different

  • tempos.

  • And he just took those elements, took it, sped it up, slowed it down, and then composed

  • the music for the film based on that. That is cool. That is really cool and it's something

  • that most people missed about the film. And in fact, Inception itself is an inception.

  • You may think that Inception is impossible.

  • In fact, they even talk about that in the movie that it's impossible to get into someone's

  • mind an implant an idea in there and make them think that it was their own idea. But

  • that's just what movies do. That's all movies do is--. It's not all they do, but that's

  • one big thing that they do is they incept ideas into us.

  • Inception probably incepted into you the idea that reality may not be actually real, but

  • instead is a dream. Inception happens all the time. And that's what the whole point

  • of advertising is. Inception. And so, but these are not even--. This is just, this is

  • tawdry stuff.

  • This is just little tiny things that you may have missed. This is not even the big stuff.

  • Kinda cool, but not the big stuff. Here's the big stuff. Or at least, starting with

  • the big stuff. Just, just getting started. On the surface, the movie is a great action

  • film with some cool special effects and a clever cliffhanger.

  • At the end and he spins the top to see if he's really in reality and they fade to the--.

  • They go to the top. Is it gonna fall? And they cut out. You don't know. That's kinda

  • cool, right? Unraveling the movie would seem to simply require discovering the answer to

  • the question, "Did the top fall?"

  • And if you knew whether the top fell or not, then you'd know whether Cobb was home and

  • the movie can be nicely wrapped up. The first step to understanding Inception is realizing

  • that the answer to that question, "Did the top fall?" doesn't matter at all. Even if

  • we knew whether or not the top fell, we would still not understand the movie.

  • Even if the top falls, Cobb could still be dreaming. And in fact, I think he probably

  • is. Now, I'm gonna give you an argument for why. So first, we have to start out asking

  • ourselves how do totems work. 'Cause Cobb's top was not the only totem in the movie.

  • Arthur's got a totem. It's the die. Ariadne's got a totem. It's the bishop. There's some

  • others as well. You're never supposed to let anyone else see how your totem works. You

  • don't even want anyone else to touch your totem. Because if they do, they might feel

  • how it's weighted in the real world and then your totem will not be able to tell you whether

  • or not you're in one of their dreams.

  • So for example, Arthur's totem is the loaded die. If Ariadne touched his totem, she might

  • get inkling about how it's weighted in the real world. And she would know that whenever

  • he rolls it in the real world, it always comes up a five. So, he can't let her touch that

  • because if she touches that, then if he's in one of her dreams and he rolls his die

  • in her dream--.

  • Well, she knows it's supposed to come up a five and so she would dream it would come

  • up a five. So, you can't let anyone know how your totem behaves in the real world. If she

  • does touch it, then it will not be able to tell Arthur whether or not he is in her dream.

  • This is why he doesn't let her touch it. This is also why Ariadne refuses to let Cobb touch

  • her totem, the bishop. If he gets an inkling as to how it works and how it's weighted in

  • the real world and how it falls, then it won't be able to tell her whether or not he's in

  • one of his dreams.

  • So since, but here's the thing. Most importantly, what this means is that totems can only tell

  • you that you're not in someone else's dream. Arthur even specifically says that in the

  • film. It can only tell you if you're in someone else's dream. It can't tell you whether or

  • not you're in your own dream.

  • So, even if the top falls in the end, Cobb could still be dreaming because he could still

  • be in his own dream because he knows how his totem works. So even if it falls, he could

  • still be in his own dream. But it gets worse. Cobb reveals too much.

  • When Ariadne calls totems an "elegant solution for keeping track of reality,"--this is right

  • after he'd asked to see hers and she said, "No, you can't see it." And he says, "Good

  • job. You shouldn't let anyone know how your totem works." Right after that, she says,

  • "It's an elegant solution for keeping track of reality."

  • And asked if it was his idea. And he says, "No, it was Mal's actually. This one was hers.

  • She would spin it in the dream and it would never topple, just spin and spin." He just

  • did what he told her never to do--tell people how your totem works. He just told her how

  • it works.

  • So now, the totem is no good for telling him whether or not he's in one of her dreams because

  • now she knows how it works. And since she designed all the dreams of the inception,

  • it can't tell him whether or not he's out of the inception or not because tops would

  • fall.

  • She knows how it works in all the dreams in the inception. And worse yet, the top was

  • originally Mal's. That was her totem. It's not his. She knows how it works. So, it can't

  • tell him whether or not he's in her dream, either. So, even if the top falls at the end,

  • he could still be in his own dream.

  • He could still be in Ariadne's dream. He could still be in Mal's dream. Now, he thinks Mal

  • is dead of course, so he doesn't have to worry about that. But the problem, of course, is

  • she might have been right. And if she was, she's still alive. We'll talk more about that

  • in a little bit.

  • But it gets even worse. Those three people that it could be, that he's still dreaming

  • in, he's in their dream. But it gets worse. Think about how the other totems work. Arthur

  • only knows what number his die falls on in the real world. Only Ariadne knows how her

  • bishop is weighted in the real world.

  • There's another totem. Eames' totem, the poker chip. It's not exactly stated in the film,

  • but you can tell because he's always playing with it. That's his totem. And it's not quite

  • clear how it works, but if you think about it you can figure it out. There's one line

  • in the film where Cobb talks about the misspelling on his chip.

  • And, if you went to ComiCon this year, one of my contributors, Lance, showed me this

  • picture. This is from ComiCon this year. They had Eames' totem on display. And if you look,

  • it says "Mombasa District Casino, one hundred Shillings." It's a Mombasa Casino casino chip.

  • But it's misspelled. There's an extra "S" in Mombasa. And this is how his totem works.

  • If he looks at his poker chip and he sees that extra "S" he knows he's in the real world

  • 'cause he put it there. But if he looks at his poker chip and it's spelled correctly,

  • it doesn't have that extra "S."

  • Then he knows he's in someone else's dream. But with each one of these totems, notice

  • that their behavior in the real world is unique. It's loaded. It's weighted. It has an extra

  • "S." In the dream, it behaves ordinarily. Roll the die and it rolls random. But Cobb's

  • totem is backwards.

  • How does it behave in the real world? Like all tops behave in the real world. It falls

  • down. Its behavior in the dream is unique. All the other totems, how they behave in the

  • real world is unique, and in the dream is ordinary. His is ordinary in the real world,

  • unique in a dream.

  • It's backwards. And since not only do Mal and Cobb, obviously and Ariadne know that

  • his top would fall in the real world, we know his top would fall in the real world. That's

  • what tops do. Everybody knows that. If Cobb was in one of your dreams and he spun his

  • top, what would you dream that it would do?

  • Well, I'd dream that it would fall 'cause that's how I think they behave in the real

  • world. Cobb, even if the top falls at the end, he could still be in anyone's dream.

  • The top falling at the end tells us nothing. It is a red herring. It is there to distract

  • you to think you've got it figured out.

  • Oh, if I only knew if the top fell I'd have it all figured out. No, you wouldn't. [laughter]

  • And this is not a mistake. This is not an oversight. This is intentional. Cobb himself