Thursday, May 5, 2011

Writing in My Sleep

Am I awake or am I living a dream? How can I know if I am truly awake? Dreams and the nature of reality present many philosophically compelling questions. This concept of reality has also provided the basis for many films. Among these include such titles from the classic Matrix trilogy to the more recent film, Inception. These films suggest that there exists an alternate reality and pose the question of which is the genuine reality or whether or not it can even be known.

To analyze the idea of differentiating between dreams and reality, both must be uniquely and firmly defined. Dreams are basically the sensations that a person may experience while asleep, whether it be sights, sounds, smells, feelings or anything else. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary a dream is defined as “a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep; an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream.”

Simon Blackburn says in his book Think that “dreams are jerky and spasmodic. They have little or no rhyme or reason” as opposed to real life that is “spacious and majestic” (25). Inception comments on this well when the main character states that “dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” During a dream one might not think twice about a flying hippopotamus that talks, but in real life any of that would be considered highly absurd.

In order to continue, the definition of reality must also be formed. Merriam-Webster’s defines this as “the quality or state of being real (real being ‘of or relating to fixed, permanent, or immovable things; not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory’).” According to this, reality is basically anything that truly exists.

One interesting proposition on the possibility of whether one is dreaming or not was suggested by French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes. His theory of an Evil Demon, as found in his first Meditation, proposed that there could exist a being that created everything around us that we believe to be real as a delusion to ensnare our judgment. He suggested that perhaps our brain is floating in a vat with inputs flowing in to make us believe that things are happening around us, deceiving us as to the actual reality that we are no more than a disconnected brain floating in a solution (27).

In response to the dream problem Descartes concluded that in order to even consider the possibility that you might be dreaming one must be awake because such is impossible to do during a dream. This relieved him of his worry brought about by the Evil Demon theory because the act of considering the possibility of currently being in a dream makes this current state the awake state and therefore it cannot be a dream or a delusion being imposed on a brain floating in a vat.

to be continued...

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