Ritual Inception

What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.

— Dom Cobb, Inception

EAMES: We tried it. Got the idea in place, but it didn’t take.
COBB: You didn’t plant it deep enough?
EAMES: It’s not just about depth. You need the simplest version of the idea-the one that will grow naturally in the subject’s mind. Subtle art.

Inception, shooting script

Making a ritual or holiday is very much like performing inception. The nature of ritual is to smuggle an idea past most conscious filters, sticking it straight into your audience’s aliefs. As in the movie, once it’s in place you have very little control over it; it is very difficult to displace, and it may have large unintended consequences. (The movie depicts this through the character of Mal.)

Also like inception, the difficulty of imparting the idea scales very quickly with the complexity.

Aligning your aliefs with your beliefs is hard[Citation Needed]. So ritual can be very valuable! But for the same reasons it’s effective, ritual used carelessly can misalign your aliefs severely, and you may not even notice the problem. Because unlike in the movie, a misfired ritual will not pursue you through your dreams with murderous intent. It will just be a new cognitive bias you have acquired, and noticing your own biases is hard.

This is why I am extremely careful in my ritual design, to the point of taking years to actually iterate. Because failure is not necessarily recoverable.

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