Psychology Today: Inception and Philosophy

Plato on Pop

Philosophy and pop culture
by William Irwin, Ph.D., and David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D.

The movie Inception still fascinates me; I suppose that is why my colleague (and co-blogger) William Irwin asked me to edit the Wiley/Blackwell Pop Culture series book on the movie—Inception andPhilosophy: Because It’s Never Just a Dream. The book came out this month and my Pop Culture and Philosophy class is about to dive into it. As a result I’ve really got Inception on the brain and I’d like to do a few posts on it. Although it’s been about a year and half since the movie was released in theaters, people are still talking about it—so I’d like to start out by settling a debate over a question that overtook the internet in the summer of 2010, and is still alive and well today:

Did the top fall?

Inception is a movie about dreams—shared dreams specifically. The protagonist, Cobb, is an “extractor” who can share your dreams and steal your ideas. He carries a totem with him—a top—that he uses to tell dreams from reality. Whenever he is unsure whether he is awake or still dreaming, he takes out his top and spins it. If it continually spins, that indicates that he is still dreaming, but if it falls that is supposed to assure him that he is awake. At the end of the film, when he returns to his children, Cobb spins his top one final time to see if he is awake—but his kids distract him, and the film cuts to black before we see whether or not it falls.

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