I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest movie, Inception, last Monday night. Or at least I think I did.
I don’t want to give away more than the trailer already does, but I can tell you that the movie is built on the thesis that technology could allow other people to modify our dreams. But there’s a catch: this works only so long as we don’t know we’re dreaming. If we realize we are, the game’s up.
At the end of the movie we’re left to wonder, are we dreaming now? If we think we are, we aren’t; if we think we aren’t, we might be. If that sentence gives you a headache, my apologies.
Such ideas have always intrigued me. The Matrix trilogy left us wondering if life is really what we think it is, or if we’re all hooked up to machines which project our apparent experiences into our otherwise bored brains. Plato was one of the first to twist our view of reality, claiming that most of us are like people chained to a wall so that we cannot see the fire behind us, only the shadows it throws up in front of us. It is the job of the philosopher, he thought, to unchain us so we can see the reality passing us by.
There’s a biblical sense in which Plato and DiCaprio are on to something. The Scriptures make it clear that this world is not our home. While it is very real, it’s a means to an end. Jesus promised us, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2)–“mansions” translates a Greek word which meant “the destination at the end of a journey.” Our bodies are cars for the trip; one day we’ll step out of them and go into the house. Those who are still traveling will see our empty car sitting in the driveway. They cannot see us in the house, but that fact makes us no less real.
In the meanwhile, I’ll try to remember that what I see is not all there is. Nothing worth proving can be proven. What matters most is what I cannot see. I have long appreciated the story of the traveler in Israel who met a famous rabbi and was amazed by his very simple room with its desk, chair, and bed. He commented on his lack of possessions, to which the rabbi smiled and said, “I don’t see much in your hands today.” The traveler explained, “But I’m just passing through.” The rabbi nodded and said, “So am I.”