There seems to be a provocative connection between data mining and the algorithms that influence our lives, and the idea of not feeling like yourself in your own body. On a more cultural level, were you curious about the ways in which ideas are implanted in us through technology, even when those we believe are of our own volition?
Yes, absolutely. I was approaching it in different ways in the film, partly through surveillance. I mean, the Snowden leaks happened as I was writing it. I was feeling a lot of despair at the thought of the death of privacy through technology, and that made its way in. But also I think particularly relevant now is the question of where our impulses come from. We have the sense of ourselves as unified entities, with our wills, but really every human being is a chorus of conflicting desires and impulses. It’s just some of those ideas come from our own brains, but some of them don’t. For instance, there’s very interesting science that’s being done, studying how our microbiomes affect our ideas and impulses, that we are in part driven by microorganisms in our digestive systems for instance, or parasites in our bodies.
Of course, in a more figurative way, we can talk about psychological infections, the ideas that we pick up from other people without knowing, and that is particularly relevant right now. When you look at what’s happening on social media, for instance, a Russian interference in the U.S. election, that the fact that we all on a kind of grand scale are hackable or open to manipulation, because we have these ideas that we think are our own, but are really being applied to us with purpose from another place. That’s very interesting and terrifying. That is just what humanity is right now, but we’re only really starting to scratch the surface as we examine the repercussions of living in an always-online society. That is the next stage of humanity, for sure. But we don’t really know what that is yet.
The corrosive ideas in fake news are in a sense a form of mental possession. Don’t you think?
Absolutely. We’re engaged in an almost literary war about whose version of reality is strongest. No matter how fictional one of them may seem, no matter how absurd, if enough people believe it, if enough people adopt it, then it takes on. That at the moment is obviously very sacred.