I’ve always thought it amazing that one person’s thought process hundreds of years ago can determine the way you and I think and see the world today. Back in the 18th century a man named Rene Descartes tried to tackle the question, “How do I know that I really exist?” It sounds like a silly question but it’s completely legitimate. Movies like The Matrix, Vanilla Sky, Total Recall and this week’s movie Inception presents us with pictures of what it might look like if we were all victims of mind control and life as we know it—reality— was all a dream. This is where Descartes came up with his famous line, “I think, therefore I am.”
The best way to explain this strange saying is like this: Could everything we know in life (houses, other people, food, air, furniture, rain, etc.) possibly only exist in our minds? If so, at least we can say that our thinking is real. In other words, even if life could simply be one big dream, at least seeing the dream, feeling it, hearing it, thinking and experiencing it is real. If we think, we truly exist.
So good ol’ Rene and others like him kicked off the age of “the Enlightenment,” or the modern age. When humans freely explored philosophy and science untethered by superstition and myths, only accepting what could be observed with the senses, we prospered. We had incredible advances in technology that were unparalleled in history. We had an industrial revolution that redefined life on planet earth. Abuses of power in religion lost traction more and more as each decade passed. We learned more and more that the sky is the limit. We can control nature, control our destinies, and really do anything we put our minds to!
Now we are in the “post-modern” era, and I have to say, I’m thankful. Even though I love the advances that the Enlightenment brought us, humankind’s embracing of what is tangible and practical led to some pretty devastating events. The Titanic sank and thousands were killed because of our overinflated sense of confidence in our abilities and our disregard for nature. Countless lives were cut short, even sacrificed in the inhumane and cruel conditions of factories and large enterprises. Even our nation’s proud moment of creating the Canadian Pacific Railway is marred with intentional killing of Asian immigrants in order to keep the project coming along. All done in the name of the most romantic and esteemed word of modernity: progress! A political party was so sure it could improve life on earth with tough logic and brutal—very brutal—hard work. They could rid the world of all that is evil and imperfect and create a heavenly earth. They were the Nazis. Yes, I’m glad we’re moving on to the next phase.
But despite our moving forward the question still remains: could it still all be a dream? I remember in school seeing diagrams of molecules and atoms and thinking to myself, “that looks like planets in space…” Could our entire universe just be a mere atom that creates a much bigger reality? Talk about deep thoughts! Oh Jack Handey, you truly have left us a legacy.
I do find all of this fascinating, though there’s one major problem I have with the idea that our perceived reality may not be actually real. I have a tough time seeing emotions like love and hatred as mere triggers in the brain. When I experience the miracle of life, it makes this whole idea absurd. When I see a child who is only days old. When I see myself in my children’s faces. When I witness someone being compassionate to another human being. When my heart feels love so much it aches. There must be more to being real, much more, than thinking. I’m sure Rene and his leotard-wearing pals would have something to say about that, but for me… I love, therefore I am.
Congratulations Inception. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: I would pick my favourite actress, Scarlett Johansson, but as I’ve shared before, my wife is insanely jealous. She knows that if Scarlett heard about me she would be smitten beyond measure. I’ve even caught her trying to google her address so that she can “pay that hussy a little visit.” Fortunately I am a huge Ellen Page fan and I think she’s more than deserving. Plus, she’s gay so my wife doesn’t worry so much about her.
Best Actor: For years I couldn’t stand watching Matthew McConaughey. However, seeing him in recent films has changed my mind, especially Dallas Buyers Club. I haven’t seen Interstellar yet, but I can’t wait to and I even anticipate Matthew’s performance as being actor-of-the-week worthy.
Best Quote: I think this one is fitting for this week’s subject: “Things don’t always go as planned, Mr. Angier. That’s the beauty of science.” – Nicola Tesla in The Prestige.
Thank you Mr. Nolan for all of your great movies. My thanks as well to Mr. Descartes, Mr. Handey and the Hollywood Foreign Press. I know I’ve left people out here, but they’re playing the music and I have to get off of the stage.