August 1, 2010

Rae-Hunter's take on Inception

Casey Rae-Hunter of The Contrarian offers his take on Christoper Nolan's Inception. Rae-Hunter, who has guest blogged on Sentient Developments, is surprised that many of the technorati have neglected such themes as neurosecurity and mindfulness in their reviews of the film. He writes:
To me, the idea of establishing a defense against neural invaders is interesting, especially in light of new discoveries in neuroplasticity and the battle to maintain computer network security.
Fascinating stuff, but I’m pretty sure our psyches are less in danger of being harmed by outside forces than our own mental habits.

One of Nolan’s most original ideas is that the subconscious can be trained to act as a built-in police force during synaptic security breaches. The director seems to gravitate towards characters who exhibit tremendous martial/intellectual/transcendental discipline on the road to exceptionalism (Batman, The Prestige). This includes certain mental technologies.

Buddhism has for centuries been aware of the the mind’s plasticity. It teaches (among other things) that we can shape the function of our neural networks by observing our thoughts and establishing new patterns. In therapeutic psychology, this is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — a remarkably effective treatment for a host of mental afflictions. Borrowing from Buddhism, it prescribes mindfulness as a method for rooting out “bad code” and establishing a healthier psyche.

Remapping the mind requires a great deal of discipline, but it can be done. Brains are far less rigid than stone, and even stone can be shaped by water. In this view, our thoughts are similar to ripples on a swift-moving river. Like thoughts, these ripples spontaneously and constantly appear and disappear. By not fixating on the origin of the ripples, but rather accepting the simple fact of their existence, we can begin to see the river as a whole and even influence its flow.

Inception takes a more martial approach to mindfulness, but it does offer hints as to how we can keep our shit together in the midst of chaos. In the film, one of the characters experiences acute panic when he realizes the reality he thought was solid is in fact quite the opposite. (We experience similar feelings of disassociation when someone close to us dies, we lose our job, get divorced, etc.) The character is told to focus on his breath and remember his training. The particulars of instruction aren’t revealed, but I’m guessing it involves meditation and mindfulness.
Rae-Hunter is absolutely right; Inception is a treasure trove of food-for-thought. Nolan's film should keep thinkers and writers busy for years to come.

Speaking of neurosecurity, it may someday be possible to create firewalls for the 'jacked-in' mind: Fighting back against mindhacks.

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