Facing the Dragon | On Confronting Grandiosity (Pt. I)

There’s this scene in Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s Sci-Fi epic, which has always stuck with me.

It’s the one where Anne Hathaway’s character, Dr. Amelia Brand, draws a parallel between the power of love and the effects of gravity, suggesting “Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time & space”

When Interstellar was released in 2014, this moment was by-in-large left out of the conversation; the focus instead revolved dismantling the scientific and technological accuracies of the film’s conceptualisation.

Now, you could chalk this up to the admittedly clunky dialogue Hathaway has to work with.

But maybe, just maybe, the lack of discussion is indicative of a more serious problem, one which struggles to scrape our societal conscious; that of our unwillingness to earnestly embrace a meaningful connection between something so intimately subjective to the human experience, like love, with a concept so firmly routed in emotionally devoid post modern science, like gravity. [1]

To put it bluntly, “have we become more terrified of intimacy than interstellar travel?” [2]

Ernest Becker, acclaimed anthropologist and Pulitzer prize winner, sheds some light on this in the preface of his philosophical commentary The Birth and Death of Meaning:

“One of the reason the social sciences work in oblivion is that they are not getting at knowledge that instantly makes people feel powerful and satisfied, that gives them the sense they are taming their world, taking command of its mystery and danger. The science of man is the science of man’s knowledge about himself; it gives a chill in addition to a thrill — the chill of self exposure.”

I’ve been reading into this a lot recently.

The more I do, the more I believe that this fundamental resistance to introspection, to ‘facing the Dragon’ of an inflated ego, is the root cause of a great many issues — namely, a widespread spiritual & emotional detachment within our society; one which has spawned a thriving cult of personality that worships behaviours imbuing pathological narcissism.

The Dragon to which I’m referring resides within us all; it’s the fuel which drives the engine powering our inner consciousness, ego and id. It’s a force of energy that we relate to in order to express who we are internally, externally — enriching our lives and propelling us towards the creative contact we crave in order to establish who we are.

Make no mistake though; we’re playing with fire.

When channeling this vitality, we run the risk of letting it overpower us; of being seduced by our own ability to impact the world and those around us.

In the modern era, technology has acted as a sort of warping lens; despite being more connected than ever, our individual ‘self’ is refracted across innumerable channels, and this means it’s become easier and easier to form a dissociation to who we are and what we value.

In this four part series, I want to embrace the chill Becker was referring to; I want to discuss how this Dragon comes to be, the great struggle we all face in resisting its grandiose temptations, and why there’s still hope — even in the face of our increasingly secular society.

Mirrors Can Only Lie

Becker’s work often touches upon the inherent duality found inside every human being, that of our inner selves and the ‘self’ which inhabits the exterior world.

At first, the schism between the two is a blessing; it can be a mighty challenge coming to grips with the oft overwhelming nature of, you know, existing — retreating inwards provides a refuge. As we get older, settling into our small corner of the universe, we begin to notice the distinction between these two selves. A realisation dawns that the internal self, which we’ve been so carefully cultivating, is in fact irreconcilably separated from everyone and everything outside of it.

Who we are is utterly personal and can never be revealed; we observe the faces of others and our own within the mirror, but this is not who we feel ourselves to be. [3]

Language provides a forum to seemingly articulate this, but the strength of its expression amounts to shadows cast around a roaring fire; the parts which we value most and that define us — our hopes, fears and dreams, become what we’re least able to communicate.

Thus, the fundamentally human longing for connection — an endless stream of interrogation:

“what are you thinking about?”

There are two sides to this existential coin.

Think about this for a moment; there’s not a single experience that you’ve been a part of which you’ve not been in the eye of the storm — the absolute centre. The beats of your life are instantaneously vivid; the emotions they inspire indescribably textured — they’re real.

And what of everyone else’s experiences? tertiary, delayed — they have to be communicated.

Inevitably, each one of us becomes burdened with a natural, basic self centredness — caught up in a world of our own sensitivity, blunted in interpreting the experiences of others. This is something we rarely talk about — because it’s so socially repulsive [4]. Yet, embarking upon the path to reconcile these two realities represent something.

It’s an opportunity to craft real connections with others; ones unrivalled in rich meaning — a true example of the value which can be afforded to us by life itself.

It’s also the potential genesis of a soul scarring addiction; a fixation upon that which is so intoxicatingly real to us — our own experiences, emotions and desires.

It represents;

the birth of the Dragon.

This is the first in a four part series. Stay tuned for part two “On The Rise Of Autonomy”.

Click here for Part 2: Facing The Dragon | On The Rise Of Autonomy


This article was heavily inspired by two works:

“Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity” by Robert Moore

“The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man” by Ernest Becker

as well as:

[1] This video essay on Interstellar (Transcending Time | Interstellar’s Hidden Meaning Behind Love and Time)

[2] This is a quote from “On Interstellar, love, time and the limitless prison of our Cosmos” an essay by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

[3] This video essay on Blade Runner 2049 (In Search of the Distinctively Human | The Philosophy of Blade Runner 2049)

[4] I lifted this train of thought from David Foster Wallace’s commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College



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Aston Whiteling

Aston Whiteling

I'm a perfectionist with realistic expectations, a recovering Sales Engineer turned Product Marketer, and I'm trying to be more cynical about being cynical.