Claire Vassallo 64591 (m

)

PHI 3038

Film as Philosophy

Limitless
What if you could know something about anything in just a number of seconds? Imagine a world where just by reading or listening to a particular language for just a few seconds, you would instantly become fluent in that language. What if you could finish a good assignment, paper or a work file in an hour? What if you could read some of the most complex texts in a number of minutes and understand them? Imagine a world where there is no limit to what you can know. Imagine that when anyone ever asks you something, you have an answer for it. Imagine having no difficulty to learn and understand things. What would you do with all this knowledge? Do you think your life would be easier and maybe even more exciting, or do you think that by knowing everything about anything without any effort in order to know it, you would be losing some value in life? Neil Burger’s recent film ‘Limitless’ makes its audiences ask such questions by envisioning their perfect selves. The film centres around Edward Morra, a normal human being struggling to make ends meet as a writer. However, this all changes once Morra is given a top secret drug which has the power to help him use 100% of his brain, unlike the usual 20%. Thus the pill helps Morra to become the perfect version of himself without any limitations, hence the title ‘limitless’. Throughout the film, Burger lightly portrays major philosophical themes, namely the power of memory, the continuous struggle of humans to become ‘superhumans’ and lastly the power of knowledge. The first evident theme which Burger takes on in the film is the theme of memory. We are all capable of remembering experiences and events which are not happening now, but rather which have happened in the past. We all have good memories which we cherish and maybe memories which we wish we could forget or never happened in the first place. We remember what happened yesterday, a week, month, and a year from today. We remember what we did in certain situations, what we said, saw, heard and read. But how much do we 1

This memory was triggered off just by him looking at the corner of a book which the landlord’s wife had in her bag. The eyes are those which imprint different colours and shades unto our memories. These memorable things enter ones memory by means of different values. the drug helped Morra to remember about ‘a half read article.. cited in ‘Limitless Quotes: Clever but Flawed’ in Movie quotes and more <http://www.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) actually remember? Do we absorb everything around us and remember every single detail or just the important ones? These are the questions which Burger seems to be raising in the film in relation to memory. The first thing which the pill helps Morra to do in the film is to quickly recall things in the past in a number of seconds and down to the smallest detail. waiting to be released or rather remembered at the right present time. one which helps people to store all the different things which they encounter in their daily lives. Morra was also able to remember the title and the author of the book. All of this information is stored in the memory.moviewquotesandmore. were actually really ‘there the whole time’ and all he needed was ‘the access’3. Moreover. hard and soft.com> [accessed 11 November 2011] 2 3 Ibid. During his confrontation with his landlord’s wife for instance. our body helps us to distinguish and record the difference between hot and cold. 1 Eddie Morra. Our nostrils help us to record different odours whilst our mouth records different tastes. 2 . He argues that the memory is a great and powerful thing.. Saint Augustine is one who discusses the concept of memory in book X of his ‘Confessions’. whereas the ears are those which transmit different sound to our memories. Moreover. heavy and light and so on. some PBS documentary’1 which according to him was ‘Mixing itself together into a sparkling cocktail of useful information’2. Ibid. But how is it that Morra could have such a memory and such useful information from such a small source? Morra himself is not even sure how he could remember such things and in fact he asks whether such memories which he did not record. Morra remembers an event which happened twelve years ago.

In the case of emotions for instance. we cannot record any images but we can only record the things themselves. fearful and so on. smell or taste them. the memory does not only contain things which have colour. physics and other sciences for instance. happy. In the case of mathematics. Augustine does not believe that the memory is filled with all the different experiences that we encounter as the film seems to be suggesting. the creator. Mobi Classics pp 1300. Confessions of Saint Augustine. But then Augustine questions himself. In certain cases. Our memory only gives us an idea of what such physical things might have smelled. how is it that he can find God in the first place? Therefore as we can see. Augustine argues that memories can also be the result of our own impressions. but rather it is only their images. it is not the things themselves which enter our mind. smell. Such images can then be brought forth only by the act of remembering. And without any memory. then that would mean that he would not have any memory of God. Augustine argues that these things enter our memories in three different ways. 4 Saint Augustine. I am able to remember what it feels like to be sad. Sure we might remember what such physical things might have sounded. but we do not actually hear. 3 . Lastly. In the end. animals and so on. all of which make use of numbers and dimensions. In the case of physical things such as mountains. but it is also contains things which have reason and law. what is transmitted is not an image of the thing but rather it is the thing itself which is recorded in the memory. taste and feel. but rather our memory is filled with whatever we record in it. sounded or tasted like. hence the numbers and dimensions themselves. cited in Augustine of Hippo.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) However. it is not the things themselves which enter our memory. In such cases. but rather it is the images of these things which remain in our memory. smelled or tasted like at the present moment. can help him to pass beyond the power of human nature and eventually reach God. hence with whatever we are able to remember. angry. Augustine believes that this ‘large and boundless chamber!’4 which we call memory. food. He asks that if he is indeed capable of transcending his own memory and reach God. However.

Therefore. ‘it exists and can exist historically only because it is temporal in the ground of its being’5.com> [accessed 11 November 2011] 9 Ibid. In the film for instance. p 287. The Writer’s Book of Memory an Interdisciplinary Study for Writing Teachers (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. ‘All men by nature desire to know’7. cited in Frederick Copleston. the same book which Morra spent weeks struggling to even write a page.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) The existentialist philosopher. cited in Janine Rider. what he could do now was ‘Limitless’9. He also managed to learn and become extremely fluent in languages just by listening to some words in particular languages. for Heidegger. memory is not just a mere remembrance of past events. upon taking the pill.klinikum. Morra became somewhat ‘superhuman’.de> [accessed 11 November 2011] 6 Richard Rorty. we see how Morra learned to play the piano in just three days. In Morra’s own words. Heidegger argues that Dasein is not a temporal being because it forms part of history. it also gave him the ability to further his knowledge.uni-heidelberg. According to Aristotle. which literally means Being-there. did not only help Morra to remember things. had he not taken the pill. they ‘created us’6.. as we can see. Martin Heidegger. 8 Eddie Morra. In relation to this historicity. ‘Time and Memory in Freud and Heidegger: An Unlikely Congruence’ in Klinikum <http://www. cited in ‘Limitless Quotes: Clever but Flawed’ in Movie quotes and more <http://www. meaning. This is precisely what Morra does once he takes the drug. p 62. Therefore. Heidegger believes that memory is not as we usually make it out to be. however. of Dasein. 7 Aristotle. 2003). (London: British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. as is the case with his book. 4 . ‘enhanced Eddie’8 was able to do things in a much lesser time than he would have. 1995). He managed to finish his book in just four days. 5 Martin Heidegger. The drug. He refers to existence as Dasein. also addresses the topic of memory through his analysis of the historicity of existence. A History of Philosophy Greece and Rome. cited in James Phillips. but rather memory is the retrieval of the different possibilities that form part of oneself. Such retrieval does not only help us to remember meaningful instances in the past. but as we said earlier.moviewquotesandmore. these possibilities or rather memories are essential as in Richard Rorty’s words on Heidegger. Moreover. but rather. but they also help us to determine the present and also the future.

This is where the superhuman comes in. Christianity had lost the influence and power which it once had on different societies. through knowledge and eventually money came popularity. According to Nietzsche the superhuman is one who will create a ‘master morality’ rather than a ‘slave morality’. but rather he would only be influenced by the values which he himself forms from his own experiences. the superhuman will not be influenced by the values founded on Christian faith. we learn just how wealthy Morra had become as he spent nearly nine million dollars on a house and as he 10 Friedrich Nietzsche.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) The German philosopher. Knowledge helped Morra to increase his wealth as he first started making two-thousand dollars a day. society can improve its values by indeed following in the superhuman humans’ footsteps. the superhuman is one who has acquired self-mastery. cited in Robin A. Leonardo Da Vinci. apart from the one which he eventually accepts. Morra clearly states that he was offered four different jobs. He expresses this idea in his famous phrase ‘God is dead’. Brace.ukapologetics. these being Socrates. that is working for the famous and powerful business man Carl Van Loon. Therefore. He argues that the only way by which people could avoid this Christian influence was by replacing traditional Christian values with new ones. Friedrich Nietzsche is usually the one associated with this concept of the Ubermensch or rather of the superhuman. According to Nietzsche. He believes that over the years. Nietzsche believes that there has never actually been a superhuman. In ‘The Twilight of the Gods’ Nietzsche refers to Christianity as a ‘great curse’10.net> [accessed 12 November 2011] 5 . However. there are a few which he believes are close enough to be considered as superhumans. Moreover. ‘The ‘God is Dead’ Man Died in a State of Complete Insanity – but Christianity Lives On!’ in UK Apologetics <http://www. in the film we see how Morra’s superhuman abilities and knowledge eventually helped him to become more powerful. Towards the end of the film. one which has the power to influence people by spreading Christian values. Jesus. This is because unlike the rest of the other human beings. Julius Caesar and Napoleon. Lastly. As a result Nietzsche believes that Christianity creates a ‘slave morality’. than seventy-five hundred dollars and eventually two million dollars. At one point in the film. Shakespeare.

Melissa. under the title ‘The Will to Knowledge’. p 69. 2003). Foucault develops his notion of ‘power-knowledge’ and argues that power is inextricably linked to knowledge. 1989).moviewquotesandmore. the ‘History of Sexuality’. 1700-1865.com> [accessed 11 November 2011] 6 .com> [accessed 11 November 2011] 12 Francis Bacon. In the essay entitled ‘Prison Talk’. Foucault argues that ‘it is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge. ‘Discipline and Punish’.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) clearly states that ‘There is nothing that forty million dollars can’t solve’ 11. cited in ‘Limitless Quotes: Clever but Flawed’ in Movie quotes and more <http://www. Michel Foucault (London: Routledge. He believes that power is not only that which can be possessed by different individuals. the film is still quite realistic. towards the end of the film. who clearly stated that ‘Knowledge is power’12. the film also makes its audience question what life would be like if a drug like NZT would exist. The French philosopher. Foucault further discusses the notion of power in his work. But despite being unrealistic. Michel Foucault was also one who discusses the notion of power. but rather power is also a matter of what people do. This is a rather important claim since it shows how by advancing in knowledge. Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America. (New York: Oxford University Press. Overall ‘Limitless’ is rather unrealistic since a drug like NZT can never really exist and since ‘Nobody can operate at that level of mental activity’14 meaning nobody can really use his/her full mental capacity. it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power’13. as he becomes a potential candidate for the post of senate of New York. one can also advance in power. hence even more power. Apart from presenting its audience with various current philosophical themes. 13 14 Michel Foucault. Moreover.moviewquotesandmore. cited in Sara Mills. This idea of knowledge as power reminds us of the English philosopher Francis Bacon. The last phrase clearly shows the power one can have with money. p 3. cited in Richard D. In his work. The film makes people question what they would do if they discover that they had the power to learn and do anything. Brown. Would they follow in Morra’s footsteps and use their power to 11 Eddie Morra. we see how Morra rises even further in the hierarchal ladder. cited in ‘Limitless Quotes: Clever but Flawed’ in Movie quotes and more <http://www.

But then again. without any limits. we imagine a technically flawless version of ourselves. or would they use their power to benefit others? The film seems to suggest that the majority of people with such power will more likely use it to benefit themselves.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) benefit themselves. Would it be better to learn anything without any or little effort? Would it be better to be able to finish things in a lesser time than usual? The film again seems to suggest that when we think about bettering our lives. would such a world be meaningful or would it be meaningless? 7 . the film makes people wonder whether life would be better if such a drug existed. Moreover.

2003). p 69. James Phillips. 8 . 17001865. 2003). Richard D.Claire Vassallo 64591 (m) Bibliography ‘Limitless Quotes: Clever but Flawed’ in Movie quotes and more <http://www. Confessions of Saint Augustine. Carolinne White.msu.edu> [accessed 12 November 2011] Augustine of Hippo.com> [accessed 11 November 2011] ‘Nietzsche’s Superhuman’ in MSU <http://www. (London: Frances Lincoln Limited. The Confessions of St Augustine. pp 78-80 Frederick Copleston. 1989). Michel Foucault (London: Routledge. 2001).net> [accessed 12 November 2011] Sara Mills.moviewquotesandmore. p 287. ‘Time and Memory in Freud and Heidegger: An Unlikely Congruence’ in Klinikum <http://www. Brace.uni-heidelberg. Mobi Classics pp 1-300. (London: British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. A History of Philosophy Greece and Rome. Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America. The Writer’s Book of Memory an Interdisciplinary Study for Writing Teachers (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. ‘The ‘God is Dead’ Man Died in a State of Complete Insanity – but Christianity Lives On!’ in UK Apologetics <http://www.ukapologetics. 1995).de> [accessed 11 November 2011] Janine Rider. pp 60-62. p 3. Robin A.klinikum. Brown. (New York: Oxford University Press.