Waking life

… watched the movie “Waking life” a couple of days back — I absolutely loved it and it’s right on the top of the list of my favorite movies πŸ™‚ It’s not really a movie-movie, but more of a collection of thoughts/conversations about life — you need to be in the right mood to watch such a movie. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves movies which open up your mind. To those who created this movie, many thanks! πŸ™‚

The entire script is available here and quotes from the movie are available here and here. Here’s a list of my favorite quotes (with my notes in italics)

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The more that you talk about a person as a social construction or as a confluence of forces or as fragmented or marginalized, what you do is you open up a whole new world of excuses.

What you do makes a difference. We should never simply write ourselves off and see ourselves as the victim of various forces. It’s always our decision who we are.

Actually, the gap between say Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human.

What are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question and that’s this: Which is the most universal human characteristic: fear, or laziness?


The trick is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams. Because, if you can do that, you can do anything.

I mean, I’m not saying that you don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Man wants chaos. In fact, he’s got to have it. Depression, strife, riots, murder. All this dread. We’re irresistibly drawn to that almost orgiastic state created out of death and destruction. It’s in all of us. We revel in it. Sure, the media tries to put a sad face on these things, painting them up as great human tragedies; but we all know the function of the media has never been to eliminate the evils of the world, no! Their job is to persuade us to accept those evils and get used to living with them. The powers that be want us to be passive observers.

The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving.

…and as we all know, fun rules.

A single ego is an absurdly narrow vantage from which to view this experience. And where most consider their individual relationship to the universe, I contemplate relationships of my various selves to one another.

Creation seems to come out of imperfection. It seems to come out of a striving and a frustration and this is where I think language came from. I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation and have some sort of connection with one another. And it had to be easy when it was just simple survival. Like you know, “water.” We came up with a sound for that. Or saber tooth tiger right behind you. We came up with a sound for that. But when it gets really interesting I think is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate all the abstract and intangible things that we’re experiencing. What is like… frustration? Or what is anger or love? When I say love, the sound comes out of my mouth and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this byzantine conduit in their brain through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and they say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable. And yet you know, when we communicate with one another and we feel that we have connected and we think that we’re understood I think we have a feeling of almost spiritual communion. And that feeling might be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.

I particularly liked the following quote about self, free will and randomness —
In a way, in our contemporary world view, it’s easy to think that science has come to take the place of God. But some philosophical problems remain as troubling as ever. Take the problem of free will. This problem’s been around for a long time,since before Aristotle in B.C.St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, these guys all worried about how we can be free… if God already knows in advance everything you’re gonna do. Nowadays we know that the world operates according to some fundamental physical laws,and these laws govern the behavior of every object in the world. Now, these laws, because they’re so trustworthy,they enable incredible technological achievements. But look at yourself. We’re just physical systems too. We’re just complex arrangements of carbon molecules. We’re mostly water,and our behavior isn’t gonna be an exception to basic physical laws. So it starts to look like whether it’s God setting things up in advance… and knowing everything you’re gonna do… or whether it’s these basic physical laws governing everything. There’s not a lot of room left for freedom. So now you might be tempted to just ignore the question,ignore the mystery of free will. Say, “Oh, well, it’s just an historical anecdote. It’s sophomoric. It’s a question with no answer. Just forget about it.” But the question keeps staring you right in the face. You think about individuality, for example, who you are. Who you are is mostly a matter of the free choices that you make. Or take responsibility. You can only be held responsible,you can only be found guilty or admired or respected…for things you did of your own free will.The question keeps coming back, and we don’t really have a solution to it. It starts to look like all your decisions are really just a charade. Think about how it happens. There’s some electrical activity in your brain.Your neurons fire. They send a signal down into your nervous system. It passes along down into your muscle fibers. They twitch. You might, say, reach out your arm. Looks like it’s a free action on your part,but every one of those– every part of that process… is actually governed by physical law:chemical laws, electrical laws and so on. So now it just looks like the Big Bang set up the initial conditions,and the whole rest of our history, the whole rest of human history and even before,is really just sort of the playing out of subatomic particles… according to these basic fundamental physical laws. We think we’re special. We think we have some kind of special dignity,but that now comes under threat. I mean, that’s really challenged by this picture. So you might be saying, “Well, wait a minute. What about quantum mechanics?”I know enough contemporary physical theory to know it’s not really like that.”It’s really a probabilistic theory. There’s room. It’s loose. It’s not deterministic.” And that’s gonna enable us to understand free will. But if you look at the details, it’s not really gonna help… because what happens is you have some very small quantum particles,and their behavior is apparently a bit random. They swerve. Their behavior is absurd in the sense that it’s unpredictable…and we can’t understand it based on anything that came before. It just does something out of the blue, according to a probabilistic framework. But is that gonna help with freedom? Should our freedom just be a matter of probabilities, just some random swerving in a chaotic system?That just seems like it’s worse. I’d rather be a gear…in a big deterministic, physical machine…than just some random swerving. So we can’t just ignore the problem. We have to find room in our contemporary world view for persons,with all that that it entails; not just bodies, but persons. And that means trying to solve the problem of freedom,finding room for choice and responsibility…and trying to understand individuality.

Either I’m moving fast or time is. Never both simultaneously. It’s such a strange paradox. I mean, while, technically, I ‘m closer to the end of my life than I’ve ever been, I actually feel more than ever that I have all the time in the world. When I was younger, there was a desperation, a desire for certainty, like there was an end to the path, and I had to get there. I know what you mean because I can remember thinking, “Oh, someday, like in my mid-thirties maybe,everything’s going to just somehow jell and settle, just end.” It was like there was this plateau, and it was waiting for me,and I was climbing up it, and when I got to the top,all growth and change would stop.Even exhilaration. But that hasn’t happened like that, thank goodness. I think that what we don’t take into account when we’re young is our endless curiosity. That’s what’s so great about being human.
You know that thing Benedict Anderson says about identity?
No.
Well, he’s talking about like, say, a baby picture. So you pick up this picture, this two-dimensional image, and you say, “That’s me.”Well, to connect this baby in this weird little image…with yourself living and breathing in the present,you have to make up a story like, “This was me when I was a year old,”and later I had long hair, and then we moved to Riverdale,and now here I am.” So it takes a story that’s actually a fiction… to make you and the baby in the picture identical to create your identity. And the funny thing is, our cells are completely regenerating every seven years. We’ve already become completely different people several times over, and yet we always remain quintessentially ourselves.

I am reminded of Matthieu Ricard here (great guy btw, you should check him out if you haven’t already). In his talk describing the concept of self, he compares the self to a river. The river is constantly flowing, the water is constantly changing, you are never quite in the same river twice; when you attach a name to the river, you actually refer to the dynamic stream/ continuum. Beautiful analogy! The ego is a fascinating beast — it doesn’t want to look in the mirror to see what it is, but just by looking at the behavior of other beasts, it is quite convinced that has to be big :).

Did you ever have a job that you hated and worked real hard at? A long, hard day of work. Finally you get to go home, get in bed, close your eyes and immediately you wake up and realize… that the whole day at work had been a dream. It’s bad enough that you sell your waking life for minimum wage, but now they get your dreams for free.

On the way to discovering what we love, we will find everything we hate, everything that blocks our path to what we desire.

Life is a matter of a miracle that is collected over time by moments flabbergasted to be in each others presence.

Here’s a teaser from the movie for “Before Sunrise/ Before sunset” fans πŸ™‚
… maybe I only exist in your mind. I’m still just as real as anything else.

And on really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.
Been there, done that! πŸ™‚

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3 thoughts on “Waking life

  1. WordPress just directed me to your blog…Funny enough that you have your blog name as Randomness and have this post about Waking Life. Because I just posted my new blog post about the same film and about how random I came across to it : ) It is on http://selinon.wordpress.com/

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