18 Jul 2010

Dream A Little Dream

Tonight I watched Inception, and I say that it is original, thrilling, emotional and ingenious!

ESPECIALLY the originality of the concept of dreams. I can't believe that someone can actually come up with an entire theory of dreams... and dreams within dreams. No wonder a lot of critics are simply astounded by this movie and gave it big ratings! But maybe this dream theory might be too complex for people to understand. So I'll try to explain it without any spoilers.(The explanations start after this paragraph.) But if you want to try to understand it yourself during the movie, STOP READING NOW!!!

First, introducing the phenomenon called "shared dreaming". In the movie, two or more people can share a dream(with the help of a special machine and some sedatives), with one person acting as a host. This host is responsible for creating the world in his dream with his/her subconscious first, before the other participants can enter the dream.

In the dream world, the dreamers can manipulate anything, kind of like Second Life. Create buildings, weapons, bridges, houses etc. Even cooler is that the dreamers can also make use of paradoxes to defy physics, like making a temporary loop of never-ending stairs! The problem is, the more you modify the dream, the more the host's subconscious becomes aware of these foreign dreamers. This subconscious is usually channeled through people you see in the dream, like passers-by. If you make too many changes to the dream, the subconscious will try to drive you out of the dream.

Speaking of which, there are two ways of waking up from a dream: either by killing yourself in the dream, or using a "kick". Not literally kicking yourself, but a certain powerful sensation, like falling, to jolt you out of the dream. Sounds familiar? A lot of people tend to have falling dreams before, and wake up almost immediately after the fall.

Here's the more complicated bit: it is possible to have a dream within a dream. How on earth do you do that?!? In the movie, the dreamers also create a version of that "special dream machine" in that dream, and then use it to enter the next dream level. By the way, not all of the dreams must belong to the same person; one person may be having a new dream while participating in another person's dream!

Have you ever had a dream which seems to have lasted a few hours, but when you wake up you realise that only a few minutes have gone by? In this movie, the "dream team"(what a nice name) have figured out that while dreaming, the brain functions much faster, so more things happen faster in the dream. And they found out about how much time would pass by in a dream compared to real time outside the dream. And when you go deeper into the dream levels, this time-lengthening effect gets compounded. So maybe in the 5th dream layer(if there ever is one), you could spend a year dreaming and yet still have only a few minutes of dream time pass by!

However, going through so many different levels and modifying so much stuff can make a dreamer less able to distinguish between the dream and the real world. Then how do you tell if you are dreaming? The dreamers in the movie have devised a simple method: creating their own unique "totem". The totem can only be made by that individual, and only the individual can know how the totem would behave in reality. If the dreamer is unsure if he/she is in a dream, then the totem can be used to test that doubt. If he/she really is dreaming, the totem would behave unexpectedly; if not, the totem would behave as normal. E.g. a dreamer may use a chess piece as a totem. In reality, it should fall down if tipped over, but in a dream it might do unexpected things like bounce back or freeze in motion.

NOW I'll explain what inception is in the movie. Normally, the dream team is hired to steal ideas from a person's subconscious through his/her dreams, and that is called extraction. Doing so may prevent the person from executing an ingenious world domination plan which could have doomed all of mankind. It can be as easy as stealing the person's wallet, or as difficult as breaking the person's safe. The reverse process is harder; basically, dreamers can also implant an idea into a person's subconscious, and may require less direct methods. You can't just tell the person to do something while in the dream! This process is called inception. Another problem is that this idea usually must be planted deep into the subconscious, which means going through several dream levels, and that could be really troublesome.

Well I'm going off to sleep now. I wonder if I can train myself to become conscious while dreaming? Then I can do all the crazy editing in my dream world! :D And I wonder what kind of totem I should use?