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Inception and Philosophy: Because It's Never Just a Dream (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series) [Paperback]

David Kyle Johnson , William Irwin
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Nov 2011 The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series (Book 43)
A philosophical look at the movie Inception and its brilliant metaphysical puzzles Is the top still spinning? Was it all a dream? In the world of Christopher Nolan′s four–time Academy Award–winning movie, people can share one another′s dreams and alter their beliefs and thoughts. Inception is a metaphysical heist film that raises more questions than it answers: Can we know what is real? Can you be held morally responsible for what you do in dreams? What is the nature of dreams, and what do they tell us about the boundaries of "self" and "other"? From Plato to Aristotle and from Descartes to Hume, Inception and Philosophy draws from important philosophical minds to shed new light on the movie′s captivating themes, including the one that everyone talks about: did the top fall down (and does it even matter)? Explores the movie′s key questions and themes, including how we can tell if we′re dreaming or awake, how to make sense of a paradox, and whether or not inception is possible Gives new insights into the nature of free will, time, dreams, and the unconscious mind Discusses different interpretations of the film, and whether or not philosophy can help shed light on which is the "right one" Deepens your understanding of the movie′s multi–layered plot and dream–infiltrating characters, including Dom Cobb, Arthur, Mal, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, and Yusuf An essential companion for every dedicated Inception fan, this book will enrich your experience of the Inception universe and its complex dreamscape.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (25 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118072634
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118072639
  • Product Dimensions: 24.9 x 17 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 368,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Back Cover

Did the top fall? Was the whole movie just a dream? Is it possible for us to know what is truly real? When should we take our own leap of faith? Is paradox possible? In the complex world of Christopher Nolan′s four–time Academy Award–winning metaphysical heist film, Inception, Dom Cobb has the ability to infiltrate people′s dreams to steal and even alter their beliefs and thoughts. Lurking behind these acts of extraction and inception are profound moral and philosophical issues. From Plato to Aristotle, from Descartes to Hume, Inception and Philosophy draws from the greatest philosophical minds to shed new light on the movie′s key questions and captivating themes. Can we tell whether we are dreaming or awake? Is inception possible? Can sense be made of paradox? And the one that everyone still talks about: did the top fall—or does it even matter? You′ll also deepen your understanding of the movie′s multilayered plot and dream–crashing characters, examine different interpretations of the film, and discover whether or not philosophy can help determine which interpretation is the "right" one. You′ll even find a list of hidden secrets in the movie that you missed!

About the Author

David Kyle johnson is assistant professor of philosophy at King′s College in Wilkes–Barre, Pennsylvania, and the editor of Heroes and Philosophy. William Irwin is a professor of philosophy at King′s College. He originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books as coeditor of the bestselling The Simpsons and Philosophy and has overseen recent titles, including House and Philosophy, Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy, and Mad Men and Philosophy. To learn more about the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, visit

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I was looking forward to reading this book immensely, both because I loved the movie and I'm a big fan of pop philosophy books.

However, upon recieving this book I was slightly disappointed. The book is divided into sections, the first of which contains a handful of essays speculating on whether 'it was all just a dream' and 'did the spinning top fall at the end' and the like. This fact in itself wasn't the source of my disappointment (what good is a book about Inception without discussion of the ending?), however, the essays in this first section contained little to none in terms of philosophical theory, perspective and content, and read like bad blog posts with a lot of conjecture and arguably spurious interpretations of events in the movie. It was essentially the respective essay's authors giving their 'two cents' about the outcome of the movie, their opinion rather than philosophical analysis. If I wanted that I'd go on an internet forum or discuss the film with my friends.

Once I'd laboured through this first section, the book notably improved, with better essays with more actual philosophy in it. One thing I love about pop philosophy books is the interpretation of films etc. with the theory and perspective of big name philosophers in mind (The 'Final Fantasy and Philosophy' essay 'Final Fantasy VII as a Writerly Text', analysisng FFVII from the perspective of Roland Barthes theories being one example, and one of my favourites). This mid book improvement was welcome, but my first section had marred my opinion of the rest of the book, and felt myself finding it difficult to enjoy, a rarity for me.

The nature of these books is that they are a collection of essays by philosophers, university professors/lecturers and other such writers of the humanities.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a book that explores the ambiguous world which Inception the film created. It really goes deep and is thoroughly thorough thruout.
A great read for you interested in film or philosophy, or both.
And a steal at this asking price.
Greatly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Because It's Never Just A Review 26 Jan 2012
By Dr. Crowe - Published on
From the moment the end credits rolled, I knew then (sitting in a darkened theater back in July 2010) that Inception was going to a film that would get audiences talking -- and not just because of its ending. It's a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring film. I didn't really need to tell you that, I am positive you all agree with me. Many of us have participated in the many varied discussions and debates held discussion forums attesting to that fact. These discussions have been taking place in internet forums, living rooms, coffee shops, and emptied out theaters for the past year and a half. Naturally, Inception was a perfect candidate for the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series of books; a collection of publications that dissect and philosophize various popular works of media, from Harry Potter to South Park.

So, what exactly is the book about? Inception And Philosophy: Because It's Never Just A Dream is a collection of essays that explore the film's philosophical questions and themes. The book is mostly well-written, and very cleverly edited, using the idea of the `Editor's Totem' to keep track of `the real world' through the many different viewpoints of the writers. "Did the top fall?" and more importantly, "does it matter if the top fell?" are some of the main questions the book raises. The answers, naturally, aren't exactly answers. But what the book does provide is an exposure to many classic philosophical arguments and theories that will help you find your own answers.

A friend of mine said he had read Inception And Philosophy in a single sitting. Though I too found the book insightful and complex, I found it much easier to take the ideas presented in it in chunks. Based by philosophical themes, the book is divided into six sections. Each section has a number of essays, usually running about a dozen pages in length. I found it much easier to go through an essay or two per sitting, and about one section per day. This helped me keep a clear and level head while reading through the theories and arguments, some of which I didn't agree with.

The first section begins to list the four main interpretations of the movie, from `Most Real' to `Full Dream' and with two degrees in between. Each is well explained and defended throughout the book. It encourages the reader to explore the possibilities, and it gives the arguments a sense of perspective and balance. These interpretations, understanding them, and understanding what the filmmaker (Christopher Nolan) intended, dominate the beginning of the book. The essays sometimes take long detours into classic (and modern) philosophical theories and debates, which those of you who took philosophy courses in college (or high school) might find redundant. Perhaps philosophers and those interested in the subject will enjoy the discussion for its depth and care. Philosophy newbs will certainly find it interesting and compelling.

Myself, as a film enthusiast and filmmaker, I found some of the tangents unnecessary. Some of the arguments dive too deep into the philosophical side of things, and forget what effect such a statement would mean for the narrative of the film, and the emotional state of the viewer. Smartly, a lot of the essays take these concerns into account. If you feel that the emotional significance of Cobb reuniting with his children is lessened by the ending really being a dream, the book asks about the significance of the event to Cobb - reality or not. This significance is something noted by Christopher Nolan, and something he asks the viewers to ponder. However, Katherine Tullman in her essay The Parable of the Spinning Top brings up a very good point in relation to Descartes' Second Mediation; if Cobb's children are really just projections of his subconscious, it doesn't matter if they're are happy or sad, or even if they die.

These sort of philosophical conclusions become very tricky when dealing with a very ambiguous movie like Inception. After all, from a filmmaker's point of view, it seems very necessary to give the audience a reference to reality at some point in the movie. If there is no reference to reality, and the movie indeed does take place entirely in a dream, as some of the book argues, how does one place value on the characters or story? How do we invest into the world of the film, and what does it mean if that investment meant nothing?

Where the books shines is in its later essays and sections. The focus turns away from the dream world of Inception, and instead hones in on the ethics of heist films like Inception. The essay on the Ethics of Idea-Giving is a thought-provoking read, as is the essay that follows it -- pictured above. Much like the rest of the book, these thoughts and discussions about ethics and philosophy stray from world of the film, and stay connected in a way that a textbook might. Where it gets interesting and more married to the narrative of the film is when it relates to Mal, and Cobb's inception on her. A lot of fans have already developed attitudes and opinions on the morality of the act, but why does that differ from the inception Cobb does to Fisher?

These questions about the story are just as fascinating, or perhaps more fascinating than the world of dreams. After all, the dreams in Inception, while offering a unique bouquet of discussions of their own, are still just the structure and device upon which the narrative develops. Inception and Philosophy has a near overwhelming amount of insights into Nolan's film. Towards the end of the book are some great nuggets for thought. An essay on Inception and how it relates to Asian and Eastern philosophies is oddly very poignant. The concluding section brings up the topic of guilt, regret, and the hidden lessons of Inception. I found it a fitting and fairly satisfying end to the book.

No doubt there is some material in the book that seems to be neglecting or misunderstanding what made the film so great in lieu of making a philosophical point. There also seems to be some clear misinterpretations of events in the film -- specifically regarding Mal's suicide. It's unclear whether these oversights are merely made for the sake of argument or not. That being said, I found many essays fascinating and worthwhile. They made it easier to overlook the ones that read like textbook material, or ones that were a bit too chewy to make it through without having to take a break from the page.

Overall, Inception and Philosophy is a compelling read. Fans of Inception will certainly get a kick out of many of the arguments, and find the amazing amount of depth and detail that can be drawn from the film fascinating.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pop Philosophy 17 July 2012
By A. Lundeen - Published on
When I first purchased this book, I felt rather skeptical that it would keep me entertained and thinking/engaged. My risk has paid off well though; the team of philosophers who compiled this work have satisfied my mind's desires.

The strong points I like about this book include its excellent descriptions of the movie scenes. I sometimes struggled to recall exactly what action occurred in the movie, but so far I have not needed to search a single scene online because the descriptions in the book are adequate. I also appreciate the understandable language used in the book; this writing is tailored for the typical reader and movie-goer and is not weighted down with confusing philosophical jargon. Overall, I did not need to reread very much at all, but my mind remained engaged regardless.

Also to the book's credit is its ability to relate the movie effectively to major branches of thinking in philosophy. It has really opened my eyes to the extent that even pop culture films play on reflecting the tides of subconscious thought of the masses. All in all, I approve greatly of this book's effort in bringing philosophy into the realm of daily, common thought. A thinking culture is a thriving culture.

Perhaps the only downside to the book is its limitation - it's obvious that the book is written around one film. Sometimes the analogies from the movie to branches of philosophy felt like a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless though, I rather expected that given the title of the book.

I recommend this book if you are looking for something to think about or desire an intellectually stimulating and unusual way of looking at the world around us now. The book is worth half its price alone for its ingenious scrutiny of the movie and its script. The philosophy more than easily makes up for the other half.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From bottom (Limbo) to (spinning) top, follow this book's threads thru the maze that is "Inception". 15 Dec 2011
By John V. Karavitis - Published on
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great 5 July 2014
By Blake - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Parts of this book were incredibly interesting but a fair amount of it was a bit dry and boring. A few times I had to skip a few pages because it just wasn't keeping my attention. All in all it proposes some interesting concepts but be prepared to read the same thing over and over again. What I mean is, the book is comprised of a handful of essays and each one re-introduces the plot of the movie to you, so you'll be hearing about Cobb and his escapades throughout the book. If you liked the movie and are interested in philosophy, get this book. However, I'm not sure how easy the concepts are to grasp as I recognized a few of the philosophy points from a philosophy class I took in college and it could seem a bit foreign to those who haven't been introduced to those ideas before.
4.0 out of 5 stars Creative 1 Feb 2014
By Shannon Switzenberg - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very creative perspective! It opens up different concept of Inception and explores new ideas! Good read for the open minded!
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