Inception, The Matrix, and Communicating Power

What is Power? Let’s get at the word.

We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us. — Audre Lorde

Inception, basically — really basically — is a movie about people who can enter your dreams; and in your dreamy subconscious, they hijack your thoughts and therefore your future actions. Cobb — as played by Leonardo DiCaprio — explains this process called “dream sharing” to Ariadne (Ellen Page). She knows that when she “dream shares,” she has the power to change the subconscious dreamscape. But she also finds out that creating too much havoc — changing the subconsciousness’ landscape (literally so) — will cause it to rebel. This happens when Mal — Cobb’s ex-wife, portrayed by Marion Cotillard — stabs Ariadne. One could say Cobb’s subconscious — as represented by his ex-wife, Mal — is what actually stabs Ariadne. The comfortable establishment of his subconsciousness felt threatened by change, so it (Mal) removed the problem (Ariadne).

Notice how the bridge at the beginning is the same bridge in Cobb’s dream. This is the site of dissonance, where Ariadne really begins to play around with his subconsciousness, and where his subconsciousness finally rebels by trying to kill her. His subconsciousness’ discomfort is so great, it must remove the person causing the dissonance.

The thing is, words and stories are very similar to this idea of “dream sharing.” We’re usually hooked into the story line when we can identify with the character, or struggle, or an attraction that can’t be explained. Conversely, people also reject stories with which they cannot identify. Moreover, if the message somehow opposes their thoughts, there is rebellion, e.g., arguments and violence.

Words have created strange ripples in the collective consciousness — the thought and behavior of society. For instance, the first radio reading of Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds produced massive panic because the populace believed there was a real alien invasion. The Lincoln Memorial too  has seen the power of words when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a dream that, largely, became true. Though there was a distance between the thought, the action, and the outcome of the Civil Rights Movement, there was large-scale cognitive dissonance: the violence began when the subconscious of white society in the 60s strongly disagreed with a new wave of movement and thought: human equality in the face of racial difference. A thought we, largely, hold to be true but was a radical concept to those who experienced the most dissonance.

civil rights

Sometimes the violence caused by dissonance is nearly inexplicable when viewed in hindsight. When we look back and something doesn’t make sense, it’s because we — as a society, at least in this context — have progressed through that dissonance. But when you’re in the middle of that storm — that psychological battle between what you’ve established to be true and the truer realities — there is no rationality. That’s the gist of The Matrix: people are “plugged” into it because there are darker realities that have been kept hidden from them.

Dissonance is the sucker punch, the K.O., the dizzy head after a roller coaster, hearing a lecture and not “getting” the point until after, the experience a kid has when you first “get their nose.” It’s a collision of thought which will not make sense until after some time. And until that time, a person’s reaction will largely vary because it is in a psychologically vulnerable state. That’s the danger that is perceived, the need for protection that expresses itself as rage.

Now let’s talk about the very basic idea that everything we see, hear, touch, smell, taste — and even everything we don’t — is the product of vibrating atoms (more fundamentally, strings). Now let’s think of the idea of thoughts and words as particles, atoms, and elements. Imagine a periodic table that has instead of elements, words.


Much like an atom, a word can conjure feelings, memories, visions, among other things. There is a real power a lover attempts to conjure when writing a letter to his other, and there is a similar power in those who choose to use words for intimidation and deceit.

Strange thing to think about thought, huh? Like existing somewhere between the fourth and fifth dimension — a cube and hypercube — where someone’s already thrown the ball and you know where to position your hand just so that you make the catch. The interstitial space between the present and near-future, the same slowed space of Neo dodging the bullet, where there is still possibility to change the course of events.

The true information and the constructed “reality” depend on the words we use and the words that are used on us. Here you see the fundamental power in words as a tool for directing emotions, thoughts, and ultimately actions.

Carl Jung was one of many philosophers who believed that all thoughts were connected on a global level called the collective unconscious. Arthur Sze mentions this same “network” where all thoughts cross in the space-time of our memories. Our memories might represent some peak into the ripple of another space-time, not necessarily the “past” or “future,” but merely another alternative. It makes you question the origin of thoughts, the power of advertisement, and hypnosis of all things technological.

they live
They Live (1988)

A simple drop of the word “hunger” coupled with the image of a hamburger could lead you to McDonald’s, even if you didn’t realize you were hungry. Or maybe an earlier conversation with a friend who mentioned hunger led you to feel that way. The word is instrumental in producing the feeling of hunger, like how a poet might understand the reverberation of words and their impact on the real world and the individual.fig2Now, let’s take the idea of dissonance in respect to the individual and society — particularly our collective unconscious, how all our thoughts interact as a large group.

oshoDissonance is the time it takes the brain and mind to understand a given topic. Usually, it’s because the person has a long held pre-conceived notion. The opposing thought is countering their respective software and interface.

There is a glitch in understanding how the system should be operating. The quantum level has shifted in such a way that the fourth dimension cannot render itself stable. There is transformation, a switch, a paradigm shift.


Sometimes dissonance can be extremely subversive and deeply radical, so that many great mutants who could produce cognitive dissonance — whether artistically, politically, socially, e.g. Cesar Chavez, Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe — have been recognized by the FBI as a threat to the “happy civilian” collective unconscious it sought to create. Usually, this “civilian” consciousness is produced through things like Ray Bradbury’s musical ear conch shells, large screen television screens, and chemical beverages which alter moods to “happy.” Maybe not so oddly enough, everybody pictured above represents those who controlled the chaos of dissonance, who balanced between love for the people and hate for oppression.

unplugThe paradigm shift exists in a fragile space-time in which the movement can be intercepted. Below is the all-male panel which decided women’s reproductive rights. Although there is an emergence of colored bodies within the first-world, the political representation has maintained white patriarchy, or pre-modern constructions. The continuation from colonization to neo-colonization establishes itself while the first worlds generally become increasingly police, military, and prison states. The gravitas of colored bodies within the first world (and its privileges of being an Elysian “citizen”) elevates, as the ultimate privilege we could pay forward — from a generational global south, the surviving remnants of colonization and diaspora, the glitch population who wasn’t ever supposed to question authority and demand citizenship, emancipation, independence, movement — is a true global paradigm shift.

all male
The all-male — and mostly white — panel deciding women’s rights.

An example of how a movement — here, the women’s progressive movement — can be appropriated by those who do not identify yet govern.

Hi there, Mr. Token.

It’s difficult to lay a finger on “power” when it can be so elusive. When we live in a country filled with mutants, the bureaucratic tape of Senator Kelly and his Friends of Humanity somehow bar our innate powers and gifts. It’s difficult to measure “power” when assassins have prevailed against the best of us. “Power” is an absolute, with probability for evil or good, and it begins with thought, launches as communication, and might see itself as an action impacting the “real” world.

So, why the question of power? It’s such a fundamental concept for budding mutants. It’s your obligation to learn the very subject and object of your being. If you were a rhino, I’d have you study ivory — it’s the very nature of your gift. And yet we live in a world which undermines our power. We have mutants who can create human technology from “trash.” Tesla gifted the human race with the possibility of free global energy, and yet a capitalistic homo sapien (Rockefeller) exploited humanity with a mutant’s gift. The word is powerful, an infinitely possible atom.

Cognitive dissonance is like first learning your alphabet or addition; you’re in a vulnerable state because you cannot differentiate false or true information, not having that prior knowledge. So, what if the information was wrong? What if instead you were taught 2+2=3? Crazy, huh? Well, try to remember when you were adding — or counting for that matter — your subconscious was in a fragile state because it was still developing and learning and was definitely not at capacity to debate or question the information given to you. Pretty difficult to simultaneously learn and refute, and this gives the source of information higher authority. Now, what if the world was constructed so that 2+2 actually does produce 3? Because that omitted additional 1 was somehow advantageous for the source so that the “reality” of the Matrix had always been lined with distortion without you “knowing?”

What about the Texas School Board of Education?

“[A] bloc of social conservatives tried to water down instruction on the history of the civil rights movement. One board amendment, for example, would have required students to learn that the civil rights movement created “unreasonable expectations for equal outcomes.” That failed to pass. Other amendments passed in January minimized the decades of struggle by women and ethnic minorities to gain equal and civil rights. (Board member Don McLeroy even claimed that women and minorities owed thanks to men and “the majority” for their rights. Earlier in the revision process, a conservative appointed by McLeroy to a curriculum team had complained about an “over-representation of minorities” in the standards.) Under pressure from civil rights groups, the board partially reversed those earlier amendments.

What if I said Texas, although historically reputed as an ultra-conservative powerhouse, holds potential as the site for some of the most progressive thought and innovation because the real population and political population diametrically differ in terms of race and class, and are also typically male and heterosexual? The real population of Texas also holds the potential for paradigm shift exactly because the political population does not represent it. And thus holds the key, for continuing the very Civil Rights the Board of Education sought to redefine and re-align history and words with their true source. Because the nature of knowledge’s power lies in the future — and therefore always — the youth.

The youth have always been critical because they are — as nominally emphasized, and quite definitively so — the next generation. Michio Kaku says that “all children are born geniuses, yet are crushed by society itself,” and if words can destroy a little boy’s psyche so that he grows a broken man, then they can also alter very fundamental conceptions of history through revisionist practices — i.e., the mis-definition of the (Civil Rights) movement in Texas — and lead entire generations astray.

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