The Indiscernibility of Dreams and Reality




Trevino, Rheanna S.

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I propose the possibility that the dream world could be an equal but alternate reality. Alternatively I pose the radical skeptical hypothesis that this entire reality (the external world) could be an elaborate dream as our experiences of the world would seem the same.

I argue three versions of the problem of the indiscernibility of dreams and reality, i.e. that dreams are not separable from a reality:

a) There is no veridical difference in the way we perceive waking experiences and lucid dream experiences;

b) We are not in an epistemological position to differentiate decisively between a dream world and a reality; and

c) Reality encompasses both dream experience and waking experience.

I do not propose we cannot know we are dreaming— as lucid dreaming definitionally means being aware that you are dreaming— I am proposing we cannot know we are awake. Further, I argue that we cannot tell a lucid dream from a reality (or alternate reality) since we experience lucid dreams with our conscious minds: there is a conscious being experiencing and interacting with the world around her (physical or not).

I argue the external world is perceptually indiscernible from a dream world, as our lucid dreaming and waking experiences are i) neuropsychologically on par: the brain recognizes and processes them in the same way, and ii) phenomenologically on par: these experiences seem equally real. If the external world is phenomenologically indiscernible from a dream world, and the two are also neurologically indiscernible, then the external world is not a necessary condition for perception, nor experience. Using a review of various neuropsychological studies, I identify perceptions as occurring independently of the external world, as we experience and process perceptions in the same way whether or not the external world is the object of those perceptions.

If the external world is not required for experience, it is possible all experience occurs in the mind or that non-physical worlds exist, and it is possible that what we perceive in the external world is illusory. I conclude the external and dream worlds could be equal realities— both phenomenal: constructed by one or more conscious beings through language and shared meanings. If we are able to construct our own reality, and we cannot tell the difference between phenomenal and objective reality, then it is entirely possible that the dream world is an alternate reality or the external world is actually an elaborate dream.


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Descartes, Dream, Philosophy, Possibility, Reality, Skepticism