October 10, 2010

Waking Life

Waking Life gets good reviews from "the nation's critics" at rottentomatoes.com. I confess that I fell asleep in the middle.

The film is a sort of animated sequence of interviews. Animated in the sense that the interviews which were shot with a video camera have been overpainted so that they have become the filmic equivalent of overpainted photographs. And animated in the sense that the interviews consist of someone waxing philosophical to a young, decidedly inanimate guy with a floppy centre parting.

Most of the philosophy I had heard before. These days it seems to me that the whole of Western philosophy boils down to the liars paradox. For instance Satre, as explained in an early part of the film, seems to be saying that one can not denate ones responsibility or choice because to do so would be to make a choice and thus be cretan.

However, Nathan Hawke, in a rare bed scence propounded the one theory that fired my imagination. Nathan and his girlfriend are in bed and at least one of them has been dreaming. They note how little time it takes, in waking life seconds, to dream a dream that can seem to have lasted for days. One can wake up, look at ones alarm clock, fall back asleep and to experience a dream of epic proportions, only to wake up to find that merely a few seconds have passed. They also claim that brain activity continues for between 6 and 12 minutes after - one presumes resperatory - death. They then surmise that in this time a dead man or woman would have the ability to dream, or relive all their waking life. And furthermore, the surmise, that perhaps waking life is indeed the dream that they are having on their death bed.

This theme has occured before as noted in reviews (I think I have written reviews) of Sixth Sense, Others (a sort of Sixth Sense for women) and American Beauty. These latter films suggest that the dead do go on to experience life, either believing that they are still alive (the first two) or aware that they are dead and free to ponder over their life as a whole. Waking life goes a little further to suggest that this life that we are experiencing is that dream we experience falling down through the clouds to dwell with worms and clay.

Jacques Lacan once claimed that the ego is dead. But I think that he was referring to the fact that it is a construction, a dead thing, an artifice, an sort of prosthesis to use Macluhans phrasiology.

So are we really dead already?

This notion at first blush seems merely a flight of fantasy. Even if the thesis were tenable, like the existance of an invisible odourless pink elephant walking down the street avoiding cars, there is nothing in its favour. Occam's razor would chop it right off.

However, this theory may have an advantage in that it may explain why there should be a self or consciousness.

The self and consciousness are perhaps two different problems. I am not sure. As a sort of Buddhist, I am inclined to think that they are very much intertwined. All there is is consciousness, but we posit permanence in the form of a self on this side (watching consciousness) and a world of things on the far side (that we presume gives rise to the light).

In order to link Nathan Hawke's theory to philosophy, however, I will concentrate on consciouness or the "qualia," the stuff of experience that seems to be private. There seems to be an experience of redness for instance. This experience is uterly unspeakable. I have already fallen foul of the liars paradox by attempting to mention it. I might attempt to say that where I see redess, in my consciousness, you see green in yours. But that would be unfair because redness is something that we agree on. We can not speak of our 'qualia' but it does seem that they are in some sense 'there'. It is also clear that we dream and have the ability to imagine things that are not external but have nonetheless a form of existance (under erasure).

There are some folk that would like to persuade us that all there is is the physical world. These people are called physicalists by philosophers, and behaviourists in psychology.

At the same time, a contemporary American philosopher called Chalmers wrote a paper positing the possibility of "Zombies." Zombies consciousness-less humans, in the sense of being machines that react to their environment, like a mechanical device, and live and eat and avoid danger without ever having sense perception, or experiencing this "o'erhanging firmament." The mind of a zombie or robot is, we presume, empty. Zombies just react. Thus, those that would try to convince us of the lack of a need for internality, or spirit, or a non physical world, are wrong. The physical world can not provide an explanation for the difference between us and zombies. Or something like that.

I find Western philosophy rather tedious. Responses to Chalmers concentrate upon whether zombies are concievable and whether concievablity entails that possibility. I have no idea whether Zombies could exist. I have no idea whether the ability to concieve of something entails that it could possibly exist. I think that probably, in both cases the answer is no. All the same however, I do feel that there is a problem. What is this stuff? What is are these lights, this circle of light that I am experiencing? Why is it there? Why I am I not a "dark" (not even dark, since darkness is visible as a black visual field).

Returning to "Waking Life".

The Nathan Hawke theory, that really *this* that we are now experiencing is really the reliving of a life by a dead person  provides a reason why there should be an "o'erhanging firmament," a "fish bowl," consciousness.

There seems to be some difference or distance between what we experience and "the real world". Enough at least to persuade a lot of people that there is a "veil of perception" or "qualia." While I am sympathetic to all those hard like non-Cretans, that point out I am being inconsistant and self-contradictory to speak of this the stuff of my life, I am equally sympathetic with those that say that there stuff of experience. What the heck is it doing there? Why is there something, like a dream, between me and reality?

Herein lies the utility, or explicative power of Nathan's theory. Get your hands off Occam! The postulation that we are a dead woman dreaming is not only concievable (like a pink elephant) but it is also useful in explaining the duality that many of us seem to feel.

Hold on! What am I suggesting? I guess am suggesting that a zombie, without consciousness in normal waking life, may have the ability to replay or dream waking life, and when replayed the original darker than dark reality may take on stuffness, "qualia," "consciousness". Of course on the the other hand, a life lived dark need not become any brighter when relived. But this, perhaps I should write to Chalmers, raises the question, how do Zombies dream? Do they not dream at all? Do they merely report dreams?

Well, I don't think that I am a zombie on its deathbed reliving its life. But I do think that there is something in this line of explanation. That the duality we seem to percieve may be explained in other ways than posititing a seperate realm of spirit.

Perhaps I will have another look at Waking Life. It was not that bad.

Posted by timtak at October 10, 2010 06:29 PM