Introduction (start here)

As an English major, I'm interested in the way Waking Life found a relatively new form of writing and utilized that medium to reach such a large audience in mainstream cinema. It brings forth a growing sentiment that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the way the world sees the art of composition. No longer is writing a singular, secluded act that’s performed with a pencil to paper. Writing has come to LIFE, and speaks with a colorful palette of mediums- images, audio and video files, websites, Power Point and similar presentation software, instant messaging, e-mail, and my personal favorite, blogs. Our audience has grown in ways that literary big leagues like Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain could never have imagined; we can cross state and country lines, cultural and religious boundaries, and blend the socio-economic differences of class, race, and gender until we all have a literary platform, equal and instantaneously available for the world. From this platform we work together to create and collaborate, to edit and argue, and to communicate in a voice that represents humanity better than ever before.

This sentiment is contingent with Kathleen Blake Yancey’s idea for a 21st century curriculum that can provide guidance in a literary world, a world that is rapidly bypassing the current emphasis on writing for a grade from a professor. Basically, today’s students are living double lives, and writing in new ways that our educational system has yet to understand, let alone create a uniform program of study to accommodate. At home, our students blog and respond to each other with comments, upload videos of social commentary, debate politics on wikis and discussion boards, and collaborate on and review each other’s poetry and fiction with email, IM, and texting. Then they go to class with a pen and paper and get bored. They force out work they are uninterested in (and it shows) and don’t care, because only one person will ever read it. The work receives a grade and dies inside a dusty notebook.

This blog is designed to provide a place for commentary, analyzation, education, criticism, and exploration into the significant philosophical issues presented in the film Waking Life. Directed by Richard Linklater and released in 2001, it is one of the most unique films to date; whether viewing through a tech savvy, animator's lense and appreciating the innovative rotoscoping construction, or listening with a writer's ear to the ninety nine minutes of dialogue that alone comprise the entire film, Waking Life can be appreciated by a wide and varied audience with different tastes. Feel free to look through the postings on this blog in any order you like, and comment on anything, no limits!!

The Aging Paradox

This piece never ceases to ease my fear of getting older, and being an older student than most undergraduates. Among other social groups, every college student can identify with that subconscious urgency of “getting there.” Is this rooted in American society’s capitalistic, caffeine-driven, climb to the top nature? Is it a part of the competitive disposition of human beings, who throughout our existence have dominated, hunted, and manipulated for our right to the continuing genome? Or is it something entirely different?

Whatever your take on the nature vs. nurture debate, the competitive state of our academic system is a manifestation of this. We exhaust ourselves with test requirements for entrances and graduations, grade point averages that are accurate to the hundredth of a point, and rigorous documentation of every class and how it fulfills requirements towards a major or graduation. There’s a hypocrisy in the system: students are coaxed and cooed with ideals that insinuate appreciation of how material corresponds to the changing world around us, and can be immediately used to better our understanding, our lives, and our society. But the system, for all its hype surrounding individuality, personal growth, and development, is still structured around the standardization of what classes we are required to take and what those classes are required to teach.

For our general education requirements, we must take a certain amount of math, English, foreign language, and social sciences. We write a certain number of pages for a certain number of classes (in Florida all students are required to complete the strictly quantitative Gordon Rule requirement); and even attend classes for a summer term. What are the real motivations behind these requirements? Similar uniformity is seen in every major. In English, technical and professional writers are required to take literature classes, even though their contribution to the study will have nothing to do with Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Milton. For so much individualism, that sounds quite generic.

A good point about higher education, to counter my cynicism: it's catching up. Yancey makes a good point in her article “Made Not Only in Words” (this is the same article I referenced in my introduction) when she talks about the dissipation of English undergraduate degrees since 1985. The number of English students has declined, but this has nothing to do with the study’s waning or (sigh of relief) disappearing altogether. English is evolving, and has splintered new schools of thought with new titles, like Journalism and Communication. This is a good sign; the education is tailoring to the interests of the student population, not the other way around.

Bottom line: the more broad the topic, the class, the degree... the less wiggle room for free student expression, the less interest in education, and the continuation of graduating seniors who still haven't found a niche.

So this is part of my own personal journey through this piece. One of my favorite things about this film is how I catch different things every time. Works that sounded too foreign or boring brought epiphanies after another view. A professor of mine, Dr. Hallock, once told me, "if you are uninterested in a work, go back and look again. There's probably something there you didn't understand." Call me idealistic, too optimistic, whatever you want: I think there's something in every piece of writing that speaks to anyone. The trick is learning the language.

I should say, despite this rant, that for the record I find this piece to be a sigh of relief to all the hustle. The first time I watched this movie, the last line of this piece was the one I took with me. "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." How empowering is that? You have literally shed your past, and will always have a clean slate for the future. That's your pysiological right, as a human being. But we will always have our perceived self, our identity, and that's your cognitive right, because you are a human being.


An accepted theory in the sociological study of crime, deviance, and self destructive behavior is that these characteristics are dominant amongst the most alienated individuals of a society. Emile Durkheim, who’s credited as the first sociologist, created this theory (and founded his school of thought) with a case study on suicide. The results of Durkheim’s study showed a higher rate of suicide amongst unmarried, childless individuals. Interestingly, the lowest suicide rates were associated with practicing Catholics and Jews. In Durkheim’s time these religions were minorities of France, where the case study was conducted, and the practitioners tended to come from large, extended families and have integral roles in their religious gatherings.

Durkheim’s study proved with empirical, scientific data that suicide is not predominantly motivated by biological pathology in an individual. Suicide is directly linked to the social environment. Durkheim, like most of the individuals of his time, assumed the highest rates of suicide would have been amongst the most subjugated social groups, but instead the highest rates were amongst the most disengaged members of society, albeit the members of the majority group. The more social interaction in a person, the less likely they would commit suicide.

Similar evidence is found in later studies of the correlation between social ostracism and criminal behavior and social deviance. For my interpretation of this piece, the difference between these criminal behavior and social deviance is only in the legal definition of deviance. If a behavior has been condemned by our justice system, such as murder or robbery, it is considered criminal behavior. Abnormal behavior with no legal prosecution, such as alcoholism or living alone with twenty cats, is considered socially deviant.

Social Deviance

By definition, ostracism and disengagement are socially deviant, but these behaviors rarely exist in and of themselves. Any form of social deviance leads in this direction. Even as children, we learn the acceptable behaviors and etiquettes that surround us, and if we act otherwise, such as pick our noses or refuse to bathe, we face some sort of repercussion, like a spanking or teasing at recess. However, not everyone will behave the way society wants them to behave. These people will always be deviants and they’ll always exist in any society to serve a unique purpose; they help the rest of society define acceptable by labeling the unacceptable.

Criminal Behavior

Robert Merton’s theory on criminal intent showed for the first time that an overwhelming amount of crime is not committed by sick individuals, but by healthy individuals who take calculated risks. Most criminals resort to this behavior because of the lack of socially acceptable options available to them; for any given reason, the criminal can’t survive in society living by the laws, and resort to any alternative method to survive.

Example: When the economy is bad, crime rates are highest. If someone can’t get a job, or the only job they can get is working extreme hours for meager pay, they will resort to alternative methods for money. They will shoplift, commit burglary or robbery, or start selling illegal drugs.

In this piece the narrator says, “[The self destructive man] thinks to himself, ‘I must be insane,’ What he fails to realize is that society has, just as he does, a vested interest in considerable losses.” Great point; this is brought up by sociologists as well. Merton’s theory outlines a few reasons why crime is a necessary evil, and without it society wouldn’t function as well, or even at all. I know it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but look at all the positive outcomes of crime and you’ll begin to see it as a lucrative business more than a detrimental problem.

o Crime creates hundreds of thousands of jobs in law enforcement, legal justice, and security.

o Billions of dollars move through the criminal justice system, without it our economy would be significantly reduced.

o Having a common enemy (the criminal, the deviant) unites the rest of society.

o The criminal justice system is a way to enforce the popular beliefs of the controlling groups of a society. If the people in power view a behavior as distasteful, they can use the legal system to enforce this distaste, and keep the subjugated groups in check. A good example of this is the criminalization of marijuana in the 1930’s to deport Mexican immigrant workers. Punishment for marijuana use was either a fine or deportation; white users paid a fine, Mexican users were forced to leave the country. Another example that’s currently in our courts is the banning of gay marriage. By adding the definition of marriage into the constitution to exclude same sex marriage, the group in power can label the homosexual as deviant, and enforce their distaste of the homosexual lifestyle.

Crime and deviance will always be a part of our lives as long as there remains a power struggle for equality, and as a whole the criminals and ostracized will remain the powerless classes. In his remarkable book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice, Jeffrey Reiman explains the Pyrrhic Theory. This term is derived from a strategic military move, where an army will purposely lose a battle to ultimately win a war. In terms for our criminal justice system, the law enforcement, courts, and overall design is made to fail. It is incredibly lengthy, bureaucratic, and expensive, but it keeps the lower classes in check with criminal records, prison, and legal expenses. It achieves its ultimate goal.

Telescopic Evolution

The evolution of mankind is a process that is steadily accelerating. This is not just an argument presented in Waking Life; while the reasons remain a hotly debated mystery, many scientists now believe that the evolutionary process itself has evolved and occurs at a more rapid pace than life has ever known. The film uses the biological evolution of mankind, from squishy invertebrates to mammals to conscious organisms, as its initial evidence for this stance. Social and technological evolutions- agriculture, industrialism, and scientific development- provide further evidence to support its telescopical theory. Linklater argues that this acceleration has traditionally been exclusive to the population on a holistic level, rather than focusing on the individual. This would explain our natural competitiveness, our drive to dominate one another, the development of capitalism, and other such behavior manifested from the predisposed support of surviving to propagate. Indeed the biological development of our species, while effecting the anatomy of the single organism, has been a direct result from the development of populations- the natural selection of the dominant traits within a population- and has thus taken place to benefit the species primarily and the individual secondarily.

So what is causing this acceleration in the evolutionary process? Biology, culture, and technology are fueling each other’s development! We make a progression in one of these facets, and it provides new opportunity in the other two. Those oppurtunities lead to further progression in the other two facets.

Example: Farming and Agriculture (technological) -->

the development of cities/groups of people living together, and genetic changes brought on by new diets and eating habits (Dunham) CULTURAL, BIOLOGICAL

Cities and close populations presented a problem with disease, which lead to cleaner habits, hygiene, and etiquette (CULTURE) and the development of medicine (TECHNOLOGICAL), and medicine has forever changed our society and genetic makeup.

Will Dunham's article on Thomson Reuters’ website reports similar ideas to the increasing speed of evolution. Dunham writes, “people today are genetically more different from people living 5,000 years ago than those humans were different from the Neanderthals who vanished 30,000 years ago.” Complimentary to the points in Waking Life, Dunham notes that significant evolutionary accomplishments are notably associated with scientific and cultural achievements.

The new evolution for Linklater will stem from a symbiotic coexistence between digital and analog information, blended for the first time by neurobiology. I’ve listened to this over and over and it still remains unclear. So I am setting out on a journey through the internet to find some answers. (QUESTION #1) What does this mean?

According to the PC guide, search CIO-midmarket on analog, and search CIO-midmarket on digital:

ANALOG INFORMATION is “information that is continuous, that is, any piece of information that can take on any of an infinite set of values.” Analog information was our traditional source for relaying phone, radio, and television signals and is basically a series of ever-changing waves being streamed into a receiver.
DIGITAL INFORMATION is “restricted” to the exchange of binary information. An infinite number of possibilities exist in the pattern of 1’s and 0’s that represent information and are transferred into digital devices, like computers, digital phones, and digital cameras. Digital communication has quickly replaced most analog sources, even though it is less accurate than its predecessor. This is because digital information is more reliable, clear, and easy to store and copy.

According to The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary:
NEUROBIOLOGY is “the biological study of the nervous system.”

(QUESTION #2) What does neurobiology have to do with analog and digital information?
Humans obviously take in analog information, not digital information; we see continuous waves of light and hear continuous waves of sound, rather than perceiving our surroundings in binary 1’s and 0’s. Is Linklater trying to say we are going to evolve into organisms capable of processing digital information? Sounds like "The Matrix" doesn't it?

Back to the video: Linklater referred to digital information as “artificial intelligence” and analog information as “molecular biology” and “cloning of the organism.”

Molecular biology has a central focus on DNA, RNA, genetics, etc. (analog communication) and is the driving force behind cloning.

Fear or Laziness?

There is an assumption in this piece that the great minds of humanity, the people who lead to giant leaps forward (or back) for our species as a whole, were only motivated by a few strands of DNA. These chunks of genetic information were what fundamentally separated these minds from the common characteristics of our ape ancestors, and sent them towards a new evolutionary direction, different than the rest of the human population. Where’s the account for the sociological impact on these great minds?

It even begins with a sociological conundrum and then veers into genetics: “There are two kinds of sufferers in this world: those who suffer from a lack of life, and those who suffer from an abundance of life.” The narrator claims to be in the latter of these categories. Then he only uses the direction of human evolution, in terms of our genetic similarities and progressions (or lack thereof) to explain these sufferings. He points out that the average human probably shares more characteristics with a chimpanzee than with the great minds who create change, and that no significant progressions of thought have occurred since the Greeks three thousand years ago. It ends with a rhetorical question: “What is the most universal human characteristic, fear or laziness?” as an explanation for why world history is a repetitive story of people never reaching their full potential, but never attempts a social rationale for a very social dilemma.

Admittedly a significant amount of our behavior is no different than the behavior of most animals. We get angry, territorial, and jealous. We mourn, grieve our losses, and feel lonely. Human beings still primarily operate out of the reptilian parts of their brains. To fight or flee is our initial response to stressful situations. Fear and anger garner the quickest reaction in groups. In his article published by National Geographic in 2005, Stefan Lovgren reported the astounding similarities between apes and humans. Ninety six percent of the human genome is still similar to our chimpanzee predecessors. This accounts for an incredible number of human characteristics that we see in the ape genus, more than previously suspected in earlier evolutionary theories. We don’t just share our physical attributes- bilateral symmetry, opposable thumbs, and extraordinary resemblance in facial features- but our emotional reactions, personality, and interaction with each other as well.

But we still have a social connection that is incomparable to anything else in the animal kingdom, and therefore could arguably be used as the very definition of humanity. We have cities, countries, and complex systems of economics, criminal justice, health care, and welfare. For hundreds of thousands of years, human society has evolved into an entity that rivals biology for the reigns to our future. We are rapidly advancing into a species that can control, manipulate, and even engineer our genetic, biological selves as we see fit.

Perhaps that measly differentiating four percent is what gave birth to Mozart, Einstein, and Isaac Newton. And likewise it may have also created Jeffrey Dahmer, Jack the Ripper, and Adolf Hitler. But would Mozart have accomplished anything if he’d never seen a piano? Someone had to teach Mozart a scale, and someone had to teach Jack how to eviscerate a prostitute. Genes are doorways, society opens the doors, and I don’t see anything in this piece to account that.

It also doesn’t help to explain the people who seem to be completely average humans, those who are closer to chimps than Einstein, who have at times changed the world and the way we think. Rosa Parks refused to get out of a bus seat and played a fundamental role in the Civil Rights movement. Erin Brockovich took on a multimillion dollar corporation and changed our views on environmental ethics. There is nothing extraordinarily different about these women from the rest of the human population, but they didn’t need to be biologically endowed to step up to a social opportunity.


It’s an irony that words, the basic tools of communication, which can stir up so much emotion, can change history and the future, change your mood, your mind, even your life, are really dead and inert. But it’s true; the only meaning lies within the individual and their perception of the meaning behind what the word symbolizes. This explains the evolution of language, because language is an extension or our evolving selves. It also explains why words loose positive or negative connotations, like derogatory insults and ethnic slurs, and why terminology changes over time. Our language changes to try and reach that transient feeling the narrator talks about at the very end of this piece, to reach that spiritual level of connection that is fleeting but has always been the sole driving force behind creation and communication.

Language is