Dream argument

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The dream argument is the postulation that the act of dreaming provides preliminary evidence that the senses we trust to distinguish reality from illusion should not be fully trusted, and therefore any state that is dependent on our senses should at the very least be carefully examined and rigorously tested to determine whether it is in fact reality.

Synopsis[edit]

While people dream, they usually do not realize they are dreaming (if they do, it is called a lucid dream). This has led philosophers to wonder whether one could actually be dreaming constantly, instead of being in waking reality (or at least that one cannot be certain, at any given point in time, that one is not dreaming).

In the West, this philosophical puzzle was referred to by Plato (Theaetetus 158b-d) and Aristotle (Metaphysics 1011a6). Having received serious attention in René Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, the dream argument has become one of the most prominent skeptical hypotheses which clearly has an archetype in elements of Plato's Allegory of the Cave also.

This type of argument is well known as "Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly" (莊周夢蝶 Zhuāngzhōu mèng dié): One night, Zhuangzi (369 BC) dreamed that he was a carefree butterfly, flying happily. After he woke up, he wondered how he could determine whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming he was Zhuangzi. This was a metaphor for what he referred to as a "great dream":

He who dreams of drinking wine may weep when morning comes; he who dreams of weeping may in the morning go off to hunt. While he is dreaming he does not know it is a dream, and in his dream he may even try to interpret a dream. Only after he wakes does he know it was a dream. And someday there will be a great awakening when we know that this is all a great dream. Yet the stupid believe they are awake, busily and brightly assuming they understand things, calling this man ruler, that one herdsman ‑ how dense! Confucius and you are both dreaming! And when I say you are dreaming, I am dreaming, too. Words like these will be labeled the Supreme Swindle. Yet, after ten thousand generations, a great sage may appear who will know their meaning, and it will still be as though he appeared with astonishing speed.[1]

One of the first philosophers to posit the dream argument formally was the Yogachara Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (fl. 4th to 5th century C.E.) in his 'Twenty verses on appearance only'. The dream argument features widely in Mahayana Buddhist and Tibetan Buddhist thought.

Some schools of thought in Buddhism (e.g., Dzogchen), consider perceived reality 'literally' unreal. As a prominent contemporary teacher, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, puts it: "In a real sense, all the visions that we see in our lifetime are like a big dream [...]".[2] In this context, the term 'visions' denotes not only visual perceptions, but appearances perceived through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations, and operations on received mental objects.

Simulated reality[edit]

Dreaming provides a springboard for those who question whether our own reality may be an illusion. The ability of the mind to be tricked into believing a mentally generated world is the "real world" means at least one variety of simulated reality is a common, even nightly event.[3]

Those who argue that the world is not simulated must concede that the mind—at least the sleeping mind—is not itself an entirely reliable mechanism for attempting to differentiate reality from illusion.[4]

Critical discussion[edit]

In the past, philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes have separately attempted to refute Descartes's account of the dream argument. Locke claimed that pain in dreams is not of the same intensity as pain in reality. Various scientific studies conducted in the late 20th century provided evidence against Locke's claim by concluding that pain in dreams can accurately mirror pain in waking life. Hobbes's refutation claimed that dreams are susceptible to absurdity while the waking life is not.[6]

Many contemporary philosophers have attempted to refute dream skepticism in detail (see, e.g., Stone (1984)).[7] Ernest Sosa (2007) devoted a chapter of a recent monograph to the topic, in which he presented a new theory of dreaming and argued that his theory raises a new argument for skepticism, which he attempted to refute. In A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, he states: "in dreaming we do not really believe; we only make-believe."[8] Jonathan Ichikawa (2008) and Nathan Ballantyne & Ian Evans (2010) have offered critiques of Sosa's proposed solution. Ichikawa argued that as we cannot tell whether our beliefs in waking life are truly beliefs and not imaginings, like in a dream, we are still not able to tell whether we are awake or dreaming.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 莊子, 齊物論, 12. Zhuàngzi, "Discussion on making all things equal," 12. from Zhuàngzi, Burton Watson trans., Chuang Tzu (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 43. ISBN 978-0-231-10595-8 [1]
  2. ^ Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Dream Yoga And The Practice Of Natural Light Edited and introduced by Michael Katz, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, ISBN 1-55939-007-7, pp. 42, 46, 48, 96, 105.
  3. ^ Joseph Barbera, Henry Moller, Dreaming, Virtual Reality, and Presence.
  4. ^ Giuliana A. L. Mazzoni and Elizabeth F. Loftus, When Dreams Become Reality.
  5. ^ René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy.
  6. ^ "Dreaming, Philosophy of – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". utm.edu. 
  7. ^ Stone, Jim (1984). "Dreaming and Certainty" (PDF). Philosophical Studies. 45 (3): 353–368. doi:10.1007/BF00355443. 
  8. ^ Sosa, Ernest (2007). A Virtue Epistemology: Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-929702-3.

References[edit]