Moral Decisions Are Not Hard

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 19th, 2011

Let us be on our guard against thinking that moral decisions are hard. It is true we cannot deterministically determine what course of action is moral, but we cannot pretend that that moral decisions are simply the result of logically thinking through the issue. We can think we have found a solution but then realise it has unacceptable consequences and we have this as a reason to reject that course of action. But how do we determine, systematically, what is relevant to a moral decision and what is not? Of course, there is no logical basis for this criteria. We just use a hybrid of logic and instinct and social pressure and so on – although the use of logic is usually restricted to creating an ad-hoc justification of our conclusion.

If there is anything hard about moral decisions, it is because we have different impulses and priorities that play out in our minds. I would not be surprised if this mostly happens subconsciously. But when our subconscious cannot come to a firm conclusions, it is referred to our conscious mind and we need to make a decisions – but the parameters for the decision have largely been determined already in our minds. We then have a war of priorities and logical thought is allowed to have a role, along side our instinct. This is when we experience that wavering before deciding on the moral action. When a particular decision has the upper hand in our conscious mind, we should not forget it has only the upper hand in the landscape of our subconscious. The hard part of decisions is only us suffering under the uncertainty of reality as these tendencies resolve themselves.

Anti Citizen One

All history is the experimental refutation of the theory of the so-called moral order of things

Nietzsche

Plato’s Cave vs. Inception

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 8th, 2011

I was blown away by Nolan’s Inception. I thought the themes in the movie took Plato’s cave and extended the idea, but at the same time also subverted the original meaning so as to be critical of Plato’s position. If you have not seen the film, my discussion is likely to be totally meaningless or possibly contains spoilers – so I suggest you stop here.

From the point of view of upper and sub realities, the two most interesting characters are Mal and Saito. Of course the protagonist, Dom Cobb, is also philosophically interesting, but this is beyond the scope of what I want to discuss. At the time of her apparent death, Mal’s views on waking reality are reminiscent of the cave prisoner who is aware of the nature of the Cave and wants to return to the upper world. The difference between Plato and Nolan is that the cave prisoner’s view is justified, but Mal’s view is likely to be mistaken. In both cases, bystanders try to dissuade them of their beliefs. The bystanders, of course, do not have experience of an upper would and, empirically speaking, this is enough to question the existence of an upper world but not enough to rule out it’s existence.

Inception also considers nested realities: a “dream within a dream”. I am not aware of much previous philosophical work on this matter, but it is interesting and extends the Allegory of the Cave. I am also interested in the phenomena of lucid dreaming – the awareness of being in a dream. As in Inception, this tends to be an unstable state which often ends in waking or a false awakening. A false awakening is the experience of waking from a dream but still actually being in a dream. Lucid dreaming also tends to be accompanied by having complete control over the dream world – this is usually… entertaining. I have personal experience of all this, as well as a “dream within a dream”, which I experienced as (incorrectly, inside a dream) believing I was awake, then experiencing falling asleep and dreaming but being aware that it was a dream (I could still remember the pre-lucid dream), then false awakening back into a normal dream (while remembering the both previous stages).

This possibility of layered reality throws a question to Plato’s cave: what if the upper world is in some sense another cave, that could be transcended? And what if there were an infinite chain of upper worlds? An extreme possibility, not discussed in any media I can think of, is the possibility of more than one branch of upper worlds? These might exist completely independently and be mutually inaccessible, except through a dream? With no definite way to address these possibilities, the message of Plato’s Cave is nullified. So what if there is an “upper world”? Without knowing it is the final objective reality, it could be said to be just as self-deceiving as the cave dwellers view of reality.

I have tried to express the different stages of Mal’s awareness of realities in the same form as my previous posting on Plato’s cave.

Time
Unspecified Upper world
“Waking”
Dreams
Dreams within Dreams
Unstructured
Early life 0
Dream Experiments 0 1 2
Lost in unstructured dreaming 0
After first inception 0?
At time of “Death” 0? 1

Key

Early life – before personally using dream sharing technology
Dream experiments – Dom said he and Mal were “exploring the concept of a dream within a dream”
Lost in limbo – Dom and Mal grow old together in the dream. Mal forgets they are dreaming, possibly as a coping mechanism. Presumably they are sedated in the upper world and can’t escape until the drug wears off – a duration which they perceive as about 50 years.
After Inception – Mal begins to question her own perception of what is “real” and what is a dream.
At time of here death – Mal is convinced that Dom’s waking world is also a dream.

Waking – including the Boeing 747/Anniversary Hotel
Dreams – Kidnapping/City streets/Van chase,Saito’s Flat
Dreams with Dreams – Hotel with “Mr. Charles”,Young Saito’s fortress
Limbo – Old Saito’s fortress, Dom and Mal’s city

According to Plato, the biggest problem we face is the lack of awareness of the true world: “idealism” while falsely taking the apparently world as reality. In Nietzsche’s philosophy, one of the greatest contemporary issues we face is the destructive belief that there is a metaphysical world and that it is more significant than the apparent waking world. Mal’s tragic death is caused by both of this issues. Firstly, she willingly forgets that limbo is not real. This is symbolically shown when she puts her spinning top in a safe in her dolls’ house. Dom “rectifies” this with his first inception. Secondly, she succumbs to the idea that waking reality is a dream – resulting in her suicide by jumping from a window.

In the film, extraction and inception only seem possible when the target is not aware of being in a dream. When Mal alerts Saito of being in a dream, he can quickly block their plan. When “Mr. Charles” informs Fischer of being in a dream, the hostile projections are more alert. Arthur had previously warned them of this, based on a previous failed attempt to use the “Mr. Charles” gambit. Conclusion: in the reality of the film, loosing grip of what is “real” opens the mind to be manipulated. Perhaps the director intended that this message might be applied outside the film.

With a story as subjective as this, it is hard to make any firm arguments or draw certain conclusions. From my experience, belief in metaphysical realities is “waiting for a train”. Semiotically, this is the will to devalue our apparent reality and to want to escape to an upper metaphysically world. Given there is no “upper world”, waiting for a train is nihilistic. Morality and religion is “waiting for a train”.

Anti Citizen One

PS I hardly need mention Yusuf’s customers, for who the dream has become their reality…