What if you were in a movie where you tried to understand if you were in a movie and the whole thing was in a movie? What sounds like the abridged summary of Inception where everything unfolds a little like a mental Matryoshka doll is actually what happens in the reality we experience every time we watch a movie.
Let me begin explaining this by sharing a pretty on-point neuroscientific analysis of Inception, the movie, where the writer cites: “Inception is about making movies, and cinema is the shared dream that truly interests the director. I believe that Inception is a dream to the point where even the dream-sharing stuff is a dream.”
Movie-watching is weird. We actively seek an experience where we know that what we shall see is a verisimilitude of reality which, however, shall subvert the boundaries of the real and the strictures of acceptable behavior in the name of affective storytelling in order to highlight experiences that we know are real (i.e. honor, love, duty etc) so that we can feel the emotional essence of having vicariously lived through that outlandish experience.
Even my ‘unpacking’ of the movie watching experience requires some unpacking. So let us begin that by saying that movies activate our mental processes in ways that few other genres can. The discipline of neurocinematics basically uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the engagement of the different centers of the human brain as we view a particular movie.
What is fascinating is that in order for us to enjoy the movie we need to consciously suspend our disbelief. Science, however, shows that what truly goes in is way deeper than that. The brain actively chooses to believe in a fiction and then also disbelieve in it. That means we take away useful elements of knowledge and experience: we learn, for instance, things we didn’t know before like, let’s say; the tensile strength of a spider’s web and get to experience for ourselves the moral choices we use to guide us through our ordinary life by examining them in an unrealistic and, because of that, much more imperative context.
This way we learn and grow and change without having to face the potentially life-threatening scenarios movies depict. This, in turn, provides a common backdrop against which our understanding of right and wrong, justice and fairness are formed. Even more interestingly than that all this is possible not just because we all watch movies and react to them in a similar way but because we want to be inside them, living them, even though we truly know we cannot.
What all this says about reality is that it is a complex construct made up of many different layers, all of which resonate with us at different times and to which we are willing participants. A universe that requires all its ingredients to actively choose to be part of it in order for it to manifest is a construct. It can be felt, shared, measured and theorized about but it can, quite possibly, barely be understood by those inside it.
There is one more element to all this: When everything feels like the movies/Yeah. you'd bleed just to know you're alive.
So, fellow sapiens. Coffee, because it’s the weekend and lots of sweet things: croissants and cookies, chocolate biscuits and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.