This book presents a reasonably structured and organized collection of mostly well-written, crisp essays on the philosophical themes found in the movie "Inception". Overall, it stands as an excellent companion piece to the movie, but only for those who are sincere about exploring the movie's philosophical themes in greater depth. (If you want "easy" answers, you won't find them here.)
The book begins with "The Editor's Totem", where the editor presents the convention "in the real world", which will be used throughout the book as a reference point for "keeping track of reality". The essays are presented in six sections, each section tackling a particular philosophical theme. Each essay runs twelve to fifteen pages in length, and thus allows a reader to easily digest one at a single sitting, and return later for more. Each essay ends with a "Notes" section, where the reader is often encouraged to "See [contributor]'s chapter in this volume." Suggested further readings can also be found in the "Notes", for those who wish to delve more deeply into a particular topic. The book ends with an "Appendix" that lists quite a number of "cool things" about the movie that the theatergoer may have missed or not understood.
The first essay, Ruth Tallman's "Was It All a Dream"?, lists the four major interpretations of the movie, from the ending being the real world (the "Most Real" interpretation) to the interpretation that it was all a dream (the "Full Dream" interpretation). Having this as the first essay signals to the reader that this collection of essays will take a balanced approach and explore all possibilities, and that the reader won't be swayed toward any one particular interpretation. From a structural point of view, it is the most important essay, as it establishes this book's integrity and sincerity.
Overall, these essays are well-written, although I have reservations about three of them. In Dan Weijer's "Reality Doesn't Really Matter" I have trouble accepting his use of the word "experience" to refer to one's dreams. This isn't the only essay that does this, but it seems to me that Weijer's essay absolutely depends on accepting this definition. For me, an "experience" is when one gets bruised by the "real world", whereas a dream is an internal state, and thus not an experience. Reality does indeed matter, since the brain, which is where the dreams are occurring, resides in the "real world". Albert J. Chan's "Honor and Redemption in Corporate Espionage" seemed to me to be a meandering mish-mash of ideas with no clear direction. My perception is that Chan wanted to discuss the ethics of corporate espionage, yet he ended up bouncing from one idea to the next. Editor David Kyle Johnson's "Taking a Leap of Faith: A How-To Guide" was weak overall. It seemed to me that the first ten pages of this essay kept repeating the same idea, and that it went nowhere until the last few pages. Yes, faith can be rational at times and irrational at others. This could have been quickly covered in a few pages, not the first ten, and a deeper exposition might have been possible. In my opinion, Weijer's and Chan's essays should not have been included in this collection. They could have been left out with no great loss to the flow of this book. Johnson's essay should have taken a more daring approach to the subject of faith, or the topic handled in another essay.
Two essays stood out as being exceptional and worth repeated reading. John R. Fitzpatrick's and David Kyle Johnson's "Inception and Free Will: Are They Compatible"? strikes at the very heart of "Inception". Since the inception of Robert Fischer is the raison d'Ítre of the movie (Cobb getting back to his children in the "real world" is merely the denouement, and the whole issue of dreams and dream states merely the architecture of the story), if inception does occur and affect the target, what does this mean for free will? And is free will even possible? Scott Daniel Dunbar's "Unlocking the Vault of the Mind: Inception and Asian Philosophy" stands as the true gem of this collection. Whereas the rest of this book focuses on Western philosophy, Dunbar's stroll on the "east side of town" shows us that Hinduism and (the various schools of) Buddhism can provide perfectly coherent interpretations of what's happening in "Inception". Dunbar also invokes the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi, who gave us the "man dreaming he was a butterfly that was dreaming he was a man". Dunbar did not develop this Daoist idea in any great depth, and I feel that following this particular idea down the rabbit hole would have, given the right pair of hands, made for a stunning essay in its own right. More than Plato and Descartes, if there is any philosophical idea that parallels "Inception", it is this.
Throughout this book, the reader is exposed to not only a large number of well-known and historically important philosophers, but also to contemporary philosophers that only "professional" philosophers would have heard of. In addition to this, the essays link to others within this book, and show that a great deal of thinking went into the architecture of this book. These two characteristics make this a solid collection of essays. With regards to the overall structure of the six sections of the book, I feel that some of the sections could have been better organized, and perhaps one or two of the essays should have been in different sections. For example, Part Three deals with both Metaphysics and Ethics, as does Part Four, just from reading the titles of the essays in each. I would have liked to have seen a clearer separation of the two areas. The last essay, Tyler Shores' "Paradox, Dreams, and Strange Loops in `Inception'" throws together a number of philosophical ideas, from epistemology to phenomenology to the issue of faith. Perhaps it would have been better placed in Part Five? Or better still if one of the sections dealt strictly with epistemology and therein subsumed "issues of faith".
Overall a great work, and highly recommended for anyone who wants to know what all the fuss was about in "Inception". John V. Karavitis, John Karavitis, Karavitis