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Inception’s dark secret: How dangerous ideas hijack our minds

We can train our minds using the insights of ancient wisdom to thwart these alien invaders

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By Pravin Periasamy

Picture the scene: two men in suits and ties, their hair neatly gelled, poised elegantly at a dinner table in a dimly lit room decorated with Japanese art.

Seated across from them is a reserved Japanese man, Saito, quietly eating, his face showing subtle signs of scepticism and suspicion. An eyebrow raised, he listens to the pair attentively.

An ominous soundtrack plays in the background. The atmosphere is intense. The camera slowly pans over to one of the two sharply dressed men.

“What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?” 

He is briefly interrupted by his colleague, Arthur, “What Mr Cobb is trying to say…”

The man understood to be Cobb swiftly reasserts himself, silencing his partner so that he can finish his intended train of thought: “An idea – resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood that sticks – right in there somewhere.” He grins smugly, his eyes piercing Saito’s soul.

This is the opening scene of Inception, one of my favourite movies. I remember vividly just how eerie I found these words to be. Cobb is describing the parasitical nature of ideas that viciously take shape in the mind.

What Cobb was describing were not benign thoughts or ideas but something more dangerous: a Trojan horse – a thought masquerading as something innocuous but, in reality, something sinister and predatory, having the capacity to direct its victims unscrupulously and put them under its control.

If such thoughts and ideas could encircle the victims’ minds and grow organically until they have completely taken hold of their subjects, they could exert a powerful stranglehold, tightening their grip day by day.

These planted ideas could cause the suspension of the victims’ critical faculties and the blinding of their rational vision. They could completely subjugate their victims under a hypnotic spell, causing them to behave mindlessly.

The movie goes on to reveal an agonising truth: Cobb is an “extractor”, a criminal, tasked with psychological espionage. Using inception, he schemes to manipulate people’s thoughts by planting ideas deep in their minds. He does this by inducing dream-states and then influencing his victims as they sleep.

Extractors plant ideas that can influence their subjects to carry out actions they otherwise would not do. These extractors prey on identifiable emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities deep in their subjects’ subconscious minds.

The subjects, impervious to the deception, artificially experience the feeling of a strong and overpowering inspiration. They believe they came on the ideas on their own and they then carry out what the ideas mentally programmed them to do. 

Dangerous thoughts can be perilous if left un-investigated. They are corrosive agents – gateways to pathological ideological possession.

These thoughts are able to pervert and warp their victims’ perceptions, overriding their thought processes and causing them to severely malfunction.

They narrow their victims’ vision so that it becomes myopic. They manipulate their will until the victims succumb to the ideas’ deceptive spell, turning them into pawns.

These dangerous thoughts weaken the victims, forcing them into severe mental fatigue. They devour any remnants of resistance left in their victims’ spirit. They have the capacity to consume their subjects, to have their identities completely subsumed in the ideas’ deceptive narrative.

The subjects are ruthlessly brought to embody the ideas’ philosophy and exude their qualities. They are then primed for control, manipulated by the dark silhouettes of their subconscious. Their souls have been co-opted by these parasitical invaders, and they are sent into a deep slumber, subdued by this alien authority.

With the subjects’ defences lowered, their moral conscience silenced and jeopardised, they become subverted. They are inevitably influenced to invite their own self-destruction and to instigate a spree of chaos.

In the movie, Cobb points out that in the dream world, the subjects populate their world with projections of their subconscious.

These projections, when trained, are able to instinctually identify when a foreign entity, an extractor in this case, has entered the subjects’ minds, intending to tamper with it. These projections are then able to immobilise entities that are alien to the mind. 

The process of reinforcement is similar to the strengthening of the immune system in a way that better enables our antibodies to detect viruses that have trespassed into the body through the bloodstream. The antibodies are then able to thwart these viruses before they metastasise into life-threatening infections that afflict and weaken the body.

Similarly, we may require psychological reinforcements to be used to observe the mind and identify when dangerous ideas have crept into the recesses of our subconscious.

Such reinforcements can train our thought processes in recognising when we are under siege from mental parasites that intend to influence us. In this way, we can reassert ourselves and take back control of our volition.

What can we do at a practical level to deal with the emergence of such thoughts and ideas?

When we study the perspectives of the distant past, we find that a path involving the training of the mind has been repeatedly advocated for – the path of wisdom.

Wisdom allows us to better train our thought processes. It enhances our rational capacities to better recognise faulty ideas and thoughts.

The wisdom of philosophy teaches us to deconstruct the chain of such ideas and thoughts. It equips us with the knowledge necessary to detect internal inconsistencies and flaws. And it highlights to us question assumptions, breaking them down to their fundamental constituents.

Through this, we are able to rely on reasoning and virtue to discern thoughts that are wholesome or unwholesome, desirable or undesirable. We can experience greater mental clarity during times of uncertainty, ambiguity, anxiety and stress.

The various insights of the ancient world can help us understand the important role that wisdom plays in thwarting the pests that seep into our minds. They can guide us in incorporating wisdom into our lives in a way that fortifies the mind, turning it into a powerful fortress guarded against parasitic infestation.

The practice of wisdom is a lifeline, a hope, an opportunity to train the mind so that it can confront dangerous ideas.

It is for this reason that the philosophers of the ancient world resorted to and advocated for ways in which wisdom could be galvanised to buttress our psychological reinforcements. 

Pravin Periasamy is networking and partnership director at the Malaysian Philosophy Society.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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24 Jun 2024 9.22pm

Interesting read. Thank you!

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