Sunday, December 30, 2007

How Do You Know You're Not Dreaming?

Things are quiet. People are on break -- visiting family, like me -- or they're sweating it out at the Eastern APA.

But maybe some of you visitors will do me a favor and answer this: How do you know you're not dreaming? Presumably you do know, right? Genuine radical skeptics are few. What I'm asking is how you know -- on what basis or by what means.

I have my own opinions about this which I'll post later, but first I'm curious to hear from some of you....

72 comments:

Genius said...

I can generally tell when I am dreaming. I think the key thing is that my brain needs to construct the dream - I can do things like looking at a wall and realise that my dream brain was not able to properly draw it, basically there is far less data going into my dream than into my normal visual experience.

Its like a visual form of pinching myself (where the brain will probably not be able to give me the expected pain response). Another thing is (to be a little childish) is that I can try making a fireball or trying to fly - things I should be able to do in a dream.

If the question instead is how do I know I am not dreaming and dreaming about dreaming. Well I don't get that information drop when I dream of dreaming (i have rich dreams) but whether we are in a matrix like dream - I really don't know for sure, but I don't see evidence for it.

Sammy D said...

Well, I don't know that I am not dreaming. It is entirely possible that all this that I am experiencing now is a vivid hallucination that I may wake up from any minute.

However, knowing whether or not I am dreaming now should not change the way I live or think about the world, and so I feel that the question has little value. Experience tells me objects still fall to the ground when dropped, lights still turn on when I flip the switch, and all other empirical regularities remain. So whatever state I may be in (dreaming, awake, alive, dead, ...), that which I am experiencing now is as "real" as real can be.

KenF said...

When I'm dreaming I can tell because things are always changing. Things aren't consistent. I can't dial a number correctly on a phone, for instance. I remember having a dream like that and I realized that my problem was just that I was in a dream.

When I am awake if I want to verify to myself that I'm not dreaming I can just look at something in detail and see that it doesn't change, no matter how much detail I look at it, or if I look away and look back.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean? I thought I *was* dreaming? Do you mean I could be mistaken, and I'm actually awake? And that my student loans and poor job prospects and unfinished dissertation are all real? Aaaahhhhhh!!!

Anibal said...

I adhere to the anticartesian arguments of Norman Malcolm that showed in his book "Dreaming" against the possibility of being dreaming and not awake. He said dreaming lacks the metacognitive aspect of language sharing, and public availability, and becasue we cannot expect an amazing temporal and spatial order if we are not awake.
Though recently neuroscience tell us that the sinchronous firing pattern of neurons while dreaming and in the state of wakefullness share many similarities (oscillation in the same band); so perhaps, Descartes was not entirely wrong!

Genius said...

kenf,
looks like our experience is similar - I was concerned that my experience might be very unusual.

I wonder if with training it would be universal or if some people just have certain analytical parts of their brain "switched off" during sleep (ie making the determination more or less impossible for them).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, all, for the interesting comments! I'm eager to reply, but I think I'll hold off for a while to hear more of what others have to say, first.

DrSteve said...

Here's one difference - when I'm awake I never have the thought, 'Maybe this is just a dream'; nor do I have lucid dreaming.

I'm looking to your solution to the problem.

My own interest is rather different. Just as lucid dreaming is wakefulness during sleep, so are we dreaming when awake (those of us who are not psychotic, that is) . The issue is how to daydream better. (I think I've mentioned Thomas Ogden's work in this connection.)

KenF said...

Let me just clarify that as far as I can tell, in the vast majority of cases, when I am dreaming, I am not aware that I am dreaming. Not until after the fact when I remember the dream do I realize it was a dream. During the dream I generally accept the unfolding drama.

Now I wouldn't say that I believe the dream is real during the dream, because that implies a level of conscious analysis that I am not generally employing during the dream.

Anonymous said...

*Presumably you do know, right? Genuine radical skeptics are few.*

Does rejection of scepticism require knowledge that we are not dreaming? Seems to beg the question against contextualism. I take it the question of radical scepticism is irrelevant to what you're asking, in any case. A radical sceptic can consistently claim that there is some reliable signal distinguishing what we call dreaming from what we call being awake; she might hold that what we don't know is whether both these experiences are not contained within an embracing meta-dream (and that knowledge is closed under entailment).

Neil

Genius said...

I used to have nightmares when I was young and it was necessary to train myself to be able to identify the dream while I was in the dream in order to realise that I could regain conrol.

Which raises the question if we are in a dream now would we get matrix like effects where we can fly etc...

The Financial Philosopher said...

To know we are dreaming or not dreaming, we must agree on a definition of"dreaming". I could make the case that I've never been in a dream as intelligently as I could make the case that I've never been awake.

Since none of us can absolutely prove if and when we are dreaming (or not), we should define what dream means to us as individuals and let everyone else find their own path (or not).

"Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man." ~ Martin Heidegger

Thanks for the thought-provoking post...

I look forward to your reply...

Anonymous said...

We know we're not dreaming because a conscious waking experience *feels* different than a conscious dreaming one.

Of course, we might be mistaken, but this only happens infrequently, and always when we're alseep.

Which just goes to show that it's best to philosophize when one's awake!

Regards,
Kevin

Jonathan Ichikawa said...

Fun question! Here are a few thoughts.

Eric's question was: how do you know you're not dreaming?

Several of the comments, however, addressed this question instead: how do you know, when you're dreaming, that you are dreaming?

The two questions are independent in a way that it is easy to fail to appreciate. Maybe I can tell very reliably or even infallibly that I'm not dreaming when I'm not dreaming, even though I can't recognize dreams from the inside. (Dreamless sleep is like this -- it's easy to tell that you're not in it, but hard to tell that you are.)

Anibal likes the Norman Malcolm suggestion that dreaming is not an experience at all. In light of modern scientific developments about dreaming -- which Anibal alludes to -- this view is not plausible. Malcolm's view never took off because REM research refuted it.

I think, for a variety of reasons, that dreaming is an imaginative activity. We do not see and believe things in dreams; instead, we imagine them. If this is right, then the way I know I'm not dreaming is closely related to the way that I know I have particular beliefs and visual experiences. And how do we do that? Another good question...

Justin Tiwald said...

I think, for a variety of reasons, that dreaming is an imaginative activity. We do not see and believe things in dreams; instead, we imagine them. If this is right, then the way I know I'm not dreaming is closely related to the way that I know I have particular beliefs and visual experiences.

Huh. That's an intriguing idea, Jonathan. I take it that on your view the belief that "I'm not dreaming" doesn't overturn a pre-existing belief. It's not that I first thought I wasn't dreaming, and only just now changed my mind.

If this is right, then it might seem that we'll have trouble explaining why we feel relieved when we wake up from a bad dream (or realize, in the midst of a bad dream, that it really is just a dream)--why, for example, I experience relief upon realizing that my cat was not flattened by a car after all. This seems to suggest that a previous belief was overturned.

But this isn't too difficult to deal with. While I was dreaming about the cat, I most likely affirmed only that my cat was being flattened by a car, not the conjunction of "my cat is being flattened by a car" and "I'm not dreaming."

Anonymous said...

Unless I'm getting close to waking up, I don't get the sense that I have control over my dreams. I do get the sense, even if it's only that, that I have some control over my thought processes when I'm not dreaming. That is, I can led my mind in new directions relatively easily, which isn't the case when I dream.

Anonymous said...

Is asking *how* I know to assume an internalist stance? Can't one know one is not dreaming by satisfying the more externalist conditions for knowledge, e.g. that I believe that I'm awake, it's true, and my believing thus is caused by my being awake?

shibaridevotee said...

When i was in my twenties, i went through a period of not being able to differentiate between waking and dreaming. I happened to be living in a foreign country, and that made the experience all the more bizarre. It seemed to me that after a while, my mind "stabilized" for lack of a better word, and I began to be able to distinguish when I was awake and asleep, and while I still have lucid dreams and am startled and pleased to wake up, I'm pretty much sure that I'm awake when I'm awake.

Anonymous said...

"When i was in my twenties, i went through a period of not being able to differentiate between waking and dreaming."

I find it hard to believe that you don't mean this at least a little metaphorically...

Quotidian Aeon said...

I have a problem with fainting because my heart shut off (thus I have a pacemaker), but the interesting thing is that when I first become conscious again I am not dreaming, but I think I am.

At the very instant that I become aware I hear voices and then I see color, but none of it makes sense. It's like some sort of raw experience of sound and color that my brain has not compiled into meaningful experience.

Then I start to be able to cognize the input and I think I must be dreaming because it doesn't make sense. I usually have some sort of internal dialog that says "this is a dream." But as things start to make more sense I realize that people are speaking English, but I still can't understand it. Then it starts to make sense. At that point the force of the situation causes me to realize that I am awake, but then it's hard to make sense of how I got here.

For instance, I was standing up in the door of a bus then I was lying in a gutter with people looking down at me. The discontinuity of the situation is what makes me feel like I'm dreaming. Only when I can remember my past and connect where I am now to where I was a minute ago (or however long ago it was), then I can overcome the dream feeling of the incident.

For me, non-dream states usually have a kind of continuity and force that dreams do not have. Especially as I start to move around or at least move my head.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Wow, thanks for all the interesting comments, folks! Let me take them a few at a time. Later today, I'll post some of my own reflections on the main page.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Genius: I take it from your first two paragraphs that your suggestions fall into two general categories: (a.) the richness of dreams is less than that of waking, so if you have rich visual experience, you must not be dreaming, and (b.) there are certain things one can do at will if dreaming -- like fly -- so if you can't do those things, you can properly conclude aren't dreaming.

I'm a little confused by the last paragraph in your first comment, though. It seems to conflict with (a). But I think your first paragraphs more directly address my intended question. (I didn't mean to ask about matrix-like skepticism or dreams within dreams.)

Kenf and genius: The following seems like a different sort of test from genius's (a) and (b), though related: (c.) in dreams things are always changing, while in waking reality is stable, so if things are stable you know you're not dreaming.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Sammy D.: Here's my thought about that. It's also possible that I'm a brain in a vat being manipulated by genius scientists from Alpha Centauri, and it's possible that the whole world was created 5 minutes ago with memories, history books, fossil records, etc., intact. But these possibilities seem strange or remote, in a way, whereas dreaming is quite common. So the possibility that I'm dreaming -- especially if sometimes when I'm dreaming I think I'm awake -- seems somehow more *live* than those others. And yet here I am, and most of us are, quite rightly confident that I'm, and we're, awake. What is the basis of this confidence?

Now if you really aren't confident that you're awake, that's a different matter!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anibal: It's been a long time since I looked at the Malcolm book, but what stuck with me from it is what Jonathan Ichikawa says about it in a later comment: That dreaming is not an experience at all but rather we sometimes confabulate stories when we awake. (This fits nicely with his behaviorism. In fact, my impression back when I was reading Malcolm was that he was the only genuine major philosophical behaviorist -- not Ryle, not Wittgenstein.) But if I start getting serious about the epistemology of dreams, I'll definitely have to read him again!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Dr. Steve: I'm not sure I understand your suggestions. What you describe as a difference "when I'm awake I never have the thought, 'Maybe this is just a dream'; nor do I have lucid dreaming" -- seems to me rather to be a similarity: In neither dreaming nor waking do you think about the possibility that you are dreaming. I'm sure I'm just missing the difference you were meaning to convey. I'm afraid I also don't fully understand the suggestion that we're dreaming when we're awake. There are a variety of different things that could mean....

Kenf: Whoops, sorry I forgot to reply to your second comment when I replied to your first comment above! That's a very nice point you make: You're not aware that you're dreaming during the dream, but that doesn't imply that you believe the dream is real, since the latter involves something else -- you call it a level of conscious analysis -- beyond simply accepting the unfolding of (apparent) events. I'd add the suggestion that in waking life also we generally accept the unfolding of events without consciously analyzing the question of whether they are real -- except when thinking about topics like this! But then one question is this: If one does pause to do that analysis, will one generally get the right answer, and on what basis?

KenF said...

The thing about waking reality is that it connects with seamlessly with our memories and conceptions about how the world works. Dreams aren't like that. We may not be consciously analyzing the "realness" of reality, but it all fits together with what we expect to be happening. Our world view is rarely if ever jarred, so there's no need to analyze "realness" consciouisly.

I often remember having thoughts in dreams like "why is this happening" or "huh?" even though I may not at the time realize that I'm dreaming. If things struck my like that while awake, it would be very upsetting, because when I'm awake I'm always, at least at some level, analyzing things for consistency and expectations, and if things don't fit into that worldview, it is very jarring. When dreaming you don't have even that level of analysis going on, so those out-of-the-ordinary things aren't as jarring, and you go with the flow most of the time.

If in a dream, my wife looks like my old friend from elementary school, I continue the dream without becoming particularly alarmed or upset. If I went downstairs right now and found my wife had morphed into my friend from elementary school, it would be alarming to say the least. ;-)

Janet D. Stemwedel said...

My younger offspring's preferred testing method is posted here.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Okay, back to replying to all these interesting comments!

Anonymous/Neil: Yes, I'm aware of the contextualist position and the non-closure principle. I had a brief qualm about them when I wrote that line, but I didn't want to make things too complex with caveats! My thought is that few waking people really doubt they're awake, when they reflect on it. What exactly the connection is to radical skepticism is an open question. (Thanks for keeping me honest!)

Financial: I don't know about that! I don't feel that things are quite as loose as that. I do think I know that I'm not dreaming (even if I can't "absolutely prove" it), and that I've dreamed in the past. I guess I'm just taking that as a starting point -- for this post at least. I know all this must seem very pedestrian of me (especially as a fan of Zhuangzi)....

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anonymous/Kevin: Ah, but the question is how does a waking experience feel different from a dreaming one? Maybe you think there's some difference in phenomenology or some direct knowledge we have that is irreducible to anything else and doesn't depend on sensory or quasi-sensory differences? Maybe so! I find myself drifting that direction in today's post....

Jonathan: I agree with you that the question of how you know you're awake when you are awake is quite different from the question of how or whether you know you're dreaming when you are dreaming. Thanks for that clarification, and for the clarification of Malcolm! And, of course, for your very interesting essay, which I heartily recommend!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Justin: I think I'd understand your comment better if your first "wasn't" was a "was". Is that right? I like your reflections about the cat. It's not, when I'm dreaming, that I have the positive thought "I'm not dreaming" but I may well have the thought that my cat is being squished.

Anonymous: That's interesting. I haven't really thought much about the issue of one's control over one's thought processes in dreaming. I don't have the impression myself that there's much difference, but I don't feel confident about that. (But how would I know, really? Hm!) I'll have to reflect on that some more.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anonymous externalist: I don't think I'm assuming epistemic internalism here. Externalism still leaves room for different bases -- I can know about the weather by being in the rain or by reading the paper or hearing from a friend. To say simply that I know that it's raining by a reliable mechanism tracing back to actual rain isn't necessarily all that we want; so also on an externalist account of knowledge that one is waking....

Shibari... Wow! I do imagine that must happen, though I suspect it's rather rare. Do you know anything about the cause or cure?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Quotidean: Thanks for all that detail -- that's really interesting! That helps support the case for option (2) in today's post (the organization and stability of sensory experience as our basis for knowing we're awake). I wonder if an incoherence in thought and not just in sensory experience also contributes to the uncertainty about being awake?

Kenf: That's a nice thought in your last comment, too. There certainly is a cognitive difference between the dreamer and the waking person -- though maybe not in some dreams, or in some drug-induced waking states! Maybe my knowledge of my own coherent cognition is part of the basis of my knowledge that I'm awake...?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Janet, thanks for the link. I'm a fan of your sprogs!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond to all the comments. It's appreciated.

Anibal said...

Thanks Eric for respond to my comment as always! is like having a virtual philosophical tutor.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks! I worry that my students will say the following: If you really want to get into a conversation with Prof. Schwitz, post a comment on his blog! ;)

MT said...

What's so special about dreaming, besides how obviously wrong we can be then about where we think we are and what we're doing? Is day-dreaming so different? What about when we are fully alert and attending an optical illusion, so that we're seeing something other than what is before us? I think the question is misguided. I would say that we don't know we're dreaming until we do, and we never truly know we're not dreaming. It's routine that we're correct, but given that the odds of being right are 50/50 it's hardly worthy of full marks when indeed we are correct--especially after hours of the night spent being wrong. I'd say that being conscious is just an ongoing hypothesis.

Sarah said...

I wouldn't say I spend "hours of the night" being wrong about whether or not I'm dreaming. Asleep or awake, I rarely stop to ask myself whether I'm dreaming. My answers to that question tend to be pretty accurate regardless of which state I'm in.

I used to be confident that I could determine whether or not I was dreaming based on "tests" like those mentioned by other commenters. This worked very, very well for several years. At some point, though, the testing process became familiar enough that I started confabulating it in some of my dreams, rendering it useless! Still, I somehow manage to make very reliable assessments of whether or not I'm dreaming. Understandably, I find #4 from the next post very appealing.

GSC said...

Hi, Professor Schwitzgebel:

Fascinating site! I shall be spending a good bit of time on it. I've also downloaded a copy of your book with Russell Hurlbutt: "Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic". It will, of course, take me a good while to study, understand, and so on...

Meanwhile, I want to bring to your kind attention a powerful tool that could significantly aid 'insights through introspection'. This is a generic aid to problem solving and decision making that, in its management avatar, I call the 'One Page Management System' (OPMS).

In brief, the OPMS enables the user to identify any 'Mission' of current interest and, through a series of well-designed questions about the Mission, enables the user to put down his/her ideas about the Mission. (The Mission could be any objective of current interest). Then comes the significant step: User is enabled to 'model' his/her perceptions on how the various ideas generated may "contribute to"/"hinder"/ etc, accomplishment of the Mission. (Any appropriate transitive relationship can be used in the modeling). The tool enables one to explore what I call the 'deep logic' of issues.

The modeling tools used in the OPMS process are the seminal contributions of Professor John N. Warfield to 'systems science' and 'systems design'. More information about Warfield and his work is available at: http://www.jnwarfield.com - and you could also find more information at the library of George Mason University, which maintains 'The John Warfield Collection' of books, papers and presentations by Warfield and his associates in the explorlation of 'complexity'.

My OPMS goes in a somewhat different direction from Warfield, whose work was originally designed to help in the exploration of 'large societal systems': my work is focussed more on the exploration of the 'thought systems within us'. I'd be delighted to send you more information, as attachments to an email message, about the OPMS: a PowerPoint presentation; a couple of Word documents. If you should be interested and intrigued by this material, I'd be happy to enable you/Professor Hurlbutt/others you may designate *(your students, etc) to freely download copies of the prototype of the OPMS software, which will enable you to do this exploration for yourself. I shall also be happy to initiate you, via the internet, on how to use the software and interpret the models created, specifically w.r.t. "what to do next"... (No fees or other charges).

Please feel free to seek any clarifications or further information required. I look forward most keenly to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
G.S. Chandy
gs_chandy@yahoo.com

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to such radically skeptical thoughts, MT. And yet I can't seem sincerely right now to doubt that I'm awake. I confess to being more sympathetic with Sarah's remarks.

In some ways similarly to Sarah, my sister reports having put post-it notes around her house and workplace saying, "Are you dreaming?" Upon seeing one, she would pause to think whether she was in fact dreaming. Eventually she began to dream of such notes and was able to answer "yes"!

G.S. Chandy: Well, I don't know, I'm already so busy! But please do feel free to email me those attachments you mention.

MT said...

In some ways similarly to Sarah, my sister reports having put post-it notes around her house and workplace saying, "Are you dreaming?" Upon seeing one, she would pause to think whether she was in fact dreaming. Eventually she began to dream of such notes and was able to answer "yes"!

Well, that's very cool, but how do we know you weren't dreaming when she told you that. It's dreams all the way down.

wadaye said...

Of course you are dreaming and so am I. It doesn't mean that it's not true, or a hallucination.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

If I'm dreaming, then you two are probably just figments of my imagination! ;)

More seriously, if you think that both you and I exist and are communicating though we are both dreaming -- well, my sense is that the literature on inter-dreamer communication isn't very promising. But of course you might say those studies are all studies only of dreams within this grander dream. Ah, then, but what distinguishes dreaming from waking, such that this is properly called only a dream...?

Lauren Bahia said...

Usually when I am dreaming I am not aware that I am dreaming. But just before I wake up, especially if in the middle of the night to go to the restroom, I begin to become aware that I am dreaming. Once I reach the realization, I wake up.

No matter how strange my dreams seem to be, they seem perfectly normal during them. As I become aware of the dream it is then that I realize that it is perhaps not possible or realistic to have the experiences I had been having.

Amberlover said...

I have a very good memory. I almost always remember my dreams and many "clips", or pictures. Dreams usually have dim lighting, very unrealistic scenes. One thing that took me a month and a half to figure out is that you never hear sounds! they jump to your brain, but if you pay attention, you'll notice that you aren't really hearing anything!
In dreams, ever rarely do people look like they do. You'll just kind of say: "thats Samantha" "Thats Connor" "Thats Jennifer" "thats Jake". People will often look nothing like they really do!

One of my favorite things to do is play with the "rod", a little silver thing that makes things in dreams. I love to snap fingers and change clothes or create a laptop. I never try to fly. I've never had a flying dream!

t3h20r said...

Look the thing is, that your real ego to say or your real you is not there when u r dreaming, so on some way if u want to lets say fly to see if ur dreaming your lets say underconsciousness doesn't let you fly and just totally change the dream if it is not able to make a better response on it> to be more precise: it does something which you are somehow afraid of, as u think that u arent dreaming as u say and want to check it, you think that theres a chance that you arent dreaming and you are afraid of that which "underconsciousness" constructs for you. I'm sorry if this is a bit confuse but my english is not good enough to say everything I want on the way i want. And that little of consciousness which makes you wonder if you are dreaming or not is your real consciousness which somehow gets mixed up with "underconsciousness" which actually manipulates it> somehow it loses control over it and that is when you start to wonder, I have no knowledge of why that happens and to be honest i doubt that anyone can actually answer it as we humans don't really know a shit about brain - argument: tell me what consciousness is ? well they can't, they can jabber like "theoreticlly this theoreticlly that" but no apsolute definition is known. Well anyway, wanted to say more but while i was writting all this i kinda forgot a few parts ^^

t3h20r said...

And to answer on Amberlovers comment. Well i'm not sure why the sounds are out but thats a really good argument, wondered about that too but about the looks of the people, they look like they would if you imagine them.. well the thing is that they are "constructed" from the details that you sight/detect/percieve on them but they do not really need to look like they do in the real world as in dreams you are the one who made them- you know who you "tried" to make or made. To be more precise, you see their characteristics, but only those that you detected/percieved, manifested in physical appearance.

Anonymous said...

Well, as for dreaming the key is, do you feel its real? People have problems with this, as well as myself. We all have to agree on one definition, to actually argue on if you're dreaming or not. As for me, in all my "real dreams" I cannot read any letters or numbers. In real life, of course unless you have Dyslexia, you can read. In my dreams, I sometimes have a tingly feeling of what's going to happen to me tomorrow, as in if I'm going to die or any such. I am sorry if I have incorrect use of words. I am still in 6th grade, but I have this on going problem.

Regards,
Laura

Marianne said...

Considering how many dreams I have which I'm convinced are real until I wake, I'm not convinced this is not a dream. This is merely where my consciousness seems to spend the majority of its time. And I guess that's what we agree to call "reality."

Sometimes I dream that I am dreaming (could I term that a 'meta-dream'?), which adds another level beyond dreaming. So then I wonder whether, on the opposite end, "reality" is PRECEDED by another state/level of consciousness.

To answer the question directly: I do not know I'm not dreaming. And I'm okey dokey with that :)

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'd like to say that I absolutely love this blog. I just came across it yesterday and even read your "Unreliability of Introspection" essay. The answer to the question, "How do I know I'm dreaming?" is rather complex. Personally, I feel that when I have that control, that power to do and feel however I want in a particular situation, I must be dreaming. I don't know if this is true for everyone, but dreams allow me to literally "construct" my dreams to some extent. Dreams allow me to approach people I otherwise wouldn't have done in real life. My inhibitions are stripped in the "dreamworld". Reality forces me rethink what I'm doing; to be cautious about my every step. Dreams, however, allow me to "know" that I can do anything.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

That sounds like "lucid dreaming" to me. Most people report having such lucid dreams only rarely.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric, I've scrolled past all of the comments without reading them to post my thoughts/observations (is it possible to observe the workings of one's own unconscious mind).

I had quite a few lucid dreams as a child but only one that I can recall as an adult. The last lucid dream of my childhood years that I remember resulted in a sort of double bluff when, having recognized that I was dreaming and telling myself to wake up, I then dreamed of awaking and it was only the continued incongruity of behaviour of people in my dream ( my family in this instance)that alerted me to the fact that this was still a dream. So in my case, the lucidity seemed to be related to being able to compare(!) the actions of dreamed family members to my sense of their usual behaviour.

The last lucid dream I had was a nightmare in which the most bloodthirsty, frightening character, who had been responsible for many deaths in the course of my nightmare, uttered the words,"and remember that the number 29 represents... mud wrestling". I promise you that I am not making this up. At that point in the dream I thought 'this is just ridiculous, I'm obviously dreaming' and I woke up giggling.

The house I was living at at the time was numbered 29. Again it was incongruity which made my dreamed self become alert to the unreality of the dream.

I am so enamoured of this blog which I stumbled upon, having become sick of the constant snipes about psychology at a philosophically oriented blog and thereafter googling "the psychology of philosophy". Hello incongruity-surely I am dreaming still. :)

Su

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Su, for your interesting comment. LOL about the 29 and mud wrestling. I find that kind of weirdness to be very characteristic of dreams and very difficult to generate, with the same flavor, in waking life.

Samantha said...

I know I'm most def not dreaming right now, because after going through all these comments people left, I know I'm not that smart of a person to be able to come up with some of that stuff ha. Plus words were used that I would never thnk to use in a dream. I'm always rather stupid in dreams and don't know how to do simple things.

Jett said...

Hey Eric.

I am dreaming when my cell phone shatters on the stairs and falls beneath the widening cracks down toward the cloudy sky.

I am dreaming when my extended family is planning which of our home’s will provided the best protection against the plants.

I am dreaming when the Sunface finds the special manifest in which only the Pencillopers will celebrate.


I am not dreaming when my back screams in pain in the morning.

I am not dreaming when I write a successful term paper.

I am not dreaming when I have to pick up my dog’s poo and tote it around for the rest of the walk.

I am not dreaming when I listen to Eliza’s explanation of her drawing of us, as cats.

Sometimes it feels just as surreal. (Am I really hosting my teenage son’s get together? How old am I?”)

I am not dreaming when I can determine my purpose, research, plan, adapt, and do or do not.

And that is my answer to Brain Boggler 2919

Anonymous said...

one can never really tell what is reality and what is dream, but, i do know that in one state, i am seeing everything in black and white

hrqueen said...

one time I wasn't sleeping I closed my eyes for a few seconds and seen flashs of peoples lives people ive never seen places ive never been to and i remember one i seen this around christmas and there was this couple wearinf christmas shirts and they were arguing i have the feeling they were married and the girl had brown hair and looked like she was in her late 30s it was a flah like the rest but it seemed longer than a quick flash and it felt like i was there with them but they didnt see me and i opened my eyes after wards I wasn't dreaming i know that it was so weird I just want to know does that mean im crazy or something it only happened once out of nowhere and a few days before that i was look at people and my whole vision was like abstract flashing things it was purple black and green and tiled threw out my whole vision but i could still see everyone and it was weird cause there were designs that i couldnt make with just three colors and it changed like every few seconds it was so weird.

alli-kizzat said...

Generally I know when I'm dreaming because I know I'm asleep. But since I went to college I have had trouble sleeping and I toss and turn for hours trying to get to sleep. On nights where I think I have gotten no sleep my roommates happily disagree and tell me I have been snoring for hours keeping them up. Much to my astonishment I can remember every single second of being awake,essentially I have been dreaming of being awake trying to fall asleep. So now I can only be sure I'm dreaming if it's an unreal situation, or too good to be true, or in the dream I am not my self. That's how I know I'm dreaming.

shadow-princess11 said...

Everyone is looking at very specific and literal attributes of knowing if you are dreaming or not. For example as said earlier if you try making a fire ball in your hand or looking at an object and making it change detail. If you can do these things it means you are dreaming right? That is what you gus are saying. But these things are on totally on different circumstances, There can be exceptions. Lets say when you are in a dream and you are trying to make a fire ball but for some reason your mind will not let you make a fire ball. Maybe because something is blocking it out of you consious or something like that. Then what? You are still dreaming but your mind is deceiving you. Sure there are other reality checks you could do like making a tree sprout from the ground or something but you get my point right? It just goes to show that it is just more complicated.

shadow-princess11 said...

I am older now and I remember like when I was four I could do things. Like make trees sprout from the ground or create people. know it sounds weird but its true. I could just imagine somethig and its like it would just appear. I could want a person to look or say something to me and they would do it. I also remeber things that never happened. Like there was this time I was in this feild blowing soap bubbles with someone but its so blurry I dont even know if it really happened. No matter how hard I try to do these things with my imagination now It will not work like it used to when I was younger. When I think back to these distant memories I can remeber a strong feeling of being in that place like the feild blowing bubbles but then it al disapperaing and going away and I would find myself back in my living room. But I dont ever actually remember a distinct memory or time like that just a strong feeling. And when I asked my parents if these thing happened they look at me funny and say I must have been dreaming.

Anonymous said...

Well, well... This must be the thread that inspired "Inception"! hoho...
Definitely a really interesting question, but I think these "nature of reality" questions can get a little bit too metaphysical. Usually the only way to deal with them through Sammy D's way...

Anonymous said...

I think another part of it has to do with time. This might sound a little vague or even silly, but I think there I feel a stronger connection between the past, present, and future
while I am awake.

Zaid Africa said...

A good way to tell if you are dreaming is to ask yourself how you got to the place where you are.If you dont then you are dreaming.

Anonymous said...

SO WHAT IS THE ANSWER???

Dean said...

You can tell when your dreaming because dreams are normally not normal they are somtimes bizare like a falling elephant or somthing like that. When your awake you cant do things like that.

ForensicGirlA said...

I used to have scary dreams, and most of the time I couldn't tell that I was dreaming. Even now, some of them seem so real I've just come to accept them as an uncertainty.
A couple of the dreams, I woke up from, so I knew I was dreaming, but one was so real that I swear I had my eyes open. I also reached up and turned on a light to test the theory, and I was indeed awake, however there was no one in the room with me...
Now that I'm 5 years older and living in a different place, I still have very real dreams, but less nightmares.
My last dream was so cooky! There was a parrot who hated my best friend's new dog. So he tried to drown him by rolling the wagon he was in into an aquarium. At the time, it didn't seem far-fetched at all, but looking back it was crazy! The only thing the parrot could say was, "Are you sure you want to wear that dress tonight?" in Sean Connery's voice.
I wish I were kidding, but the dream was so real that when the dog was drowning I actually woke up and was trembling!
To answer your question, I can't tell when I'm dreaming until the dream is over or the next day comes!

Anonymous said...

maybe twice a month I have dreams that IN my dreams I am awake. Its like In my real dream i wake up from my "dream" and start acting like it is a new day. Then eventually I will wake up. Is that normal? It gives me the major creeps

Vicky said...

I think the crucial difference between dreams and reality is that in reality you can introspect (i.e., you can think about your own thoughts and examine them). In a dream this kind of meta-thinking is not possible (at least, not that I know of).

Paolo Pantaleo said...

I am just dreaming of reading a post about dreaming, are you sure the post is real? :)

Lewis Smart said...

I have often failed to recognise that I am dreaming when I am. Even when specifically asking myself, "is this a dream?" I have often decided firmly "no, this is real" only to wake up and remember feeling that certainty. The same certainty that I feel now, more or less.

Given that the realisation that one is dreaming tends to wake one up, and that people generally sleep through their dreams, I am inclined to think that most of the time we don't realise that we're dreaming.

Some might say that these this line of thinking is a sort of zen riddle, or a pointless thought exercise. However.. considering that dreams, particularly lucid dreams, are characterised by supernatural occurrences, the apparent breaking of physical laws, and ultimately by the dreamer waking up into a different space, I am quite interested by the consequences of the event that this right now is a dream.

Anonymous said...

The definition of a dream, according to Google is:a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep.

We go to bed every night and experience a series of pictures and amazing events, but when we "wake up", we return to the "real world". However, we don't have much knowledge of dreams and why they happen. Some people think it is to freshen the brain and to make room for new thoughts and memories, and other think of it as a way to enhance current skills and things we are struggling with, but we don't know for sure. My theory is that dreams are images of the real world and we wake up every morning to the dream. Because if you actually think about "everyday life", it sometimes is just a jumble of ideas and abstract experiences.

So we are back to the current question: "How Do You Know You're Not Dreaming?" The answer is: you don't. The only way you can know for sure is to choose which world is the real world and which one is the dream. No matter which you choose, the dream is the one you should be most happy in ,since it's what you chose to be the better world. Food for Thoughts, this is. Or should I say, Food for Dreams.

Anonymous said...

...And how all of you people know that you are not dreaming right now as we speak? What if this is all a dream? How can you tell this is the Reality? Maybe because of the sensory stimulation? There's a high possibility that we are dreaming right now.