Welcome to the Real World -or- The Dream Argument

Rene Descartes is a founding father of modern science, Descartes science was born and based on his meditations about three dreams he experienced on the night of November 10, 1619. Descartes popularized what has long been philosophically known as the "dream argument". It asks; what is real? 

From a popular Hollywood film perspective such films such as "Jacob's Ladder", "The Matrix", Inception", "Avatar" and "Source Code" all put reality into question. Here is what Morpheus and Neo discuss in The Matrix; 

  • Neo: "You ever have that feeling where you're not sure if you're awake or still dreaming?" 
  • Morpheus: "Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" 
  • Neo: "This...this isn't real?" 
  • Morpheus: "What is "real"? How do you define "real"?" 
  • Morpheus: "If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain." 
  • Morpheus: "This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive simulation that we call the Matrix. You've been living in a dream world, Neo." 
  • Morpheus: "Welcome to the real world." 

This philosophical problem is also known as the science fiction thought experiment of the brain in a vat. Almost 400 years after Descartes dreams, the same perennial philosophical questions are being asked. Here is one such dreamer's dream experiences, and her questions; 

Lana, 25 

Ever since I was a child, my dreams have been exceedingly vivid. They have continued to grow in vividness as I became older. Sometimes I need to lay thinking for a few minutes after waking up to calm myself and recall if what I just dreamt was real or not. 

Many different times, I have dreamt something, and events unfold in real life like those I experienced while dreaming. Nothing is ever exact, of course, but specific events, varying from common actions such as finding something I thought was lost to more intense things, like deaths. 

In short, the connection between the real world and dreaming has always seemed so close for me. I wonder, what exactly is the connection at all? How interrelated are our dreams to reality? And if our real lives have such an obvious and profound affect on our dream lives, is it possible that those influences can also translate the opposite way - from dream to real life? 

Mr Hagen's Reply: How Real is Real? -or- Life is a Dream? 

Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderon written ca. 1635 asks many of the same philosophical questions. As a student, I had read Paul Watzlavick's "How Real is Real? One of the many ideas I learned from Watzlavick was, you cannot, not communicate. Said differently, even silence is a way of communicating something. Ever been given the "silent treatment"? 

At about the same time, I became interested in and experimented with "lucid dreaming". One of the theories that I believed might explain such phenomena was Karl Pribram's holographic theory of memory and perception. I also read Clara Torda's book "Memory and Dreams: A Modern Physics Approach" which uses Pribram's ideas. In one lucid dream, I knew I was dreaming, I methodically used all my senses especially touch, and was astonished at how real the experience is. 

Having graduated with a degree in clinical psychology, the psychopathological problem of "derealization" and depersonalization are very real phenomena. I had observed the phenomena in both my child and adult psychiatric practica rotations. People can as Freud observed narcissistically withdraw into a world of their own creation, as Morpheus calls it, "a simulation". When Neo is faced with the truth at first he suffers from derealization; 

  • Neo: No. I don't believe it. It's not possible.
  • Morpheus: I didn't say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.
  • Neo: Stop. Let me out. Let me out. I want out.
  • Neo: Don't touch me. Stay away from me. I don't want it. I don't believe it. I don't believe it.
  • Cypher: He's gonna pop.
  • Morpheus: Breathe, Neo. Just breathe. 

Your question asks; "And if our real lives have such an obvious and profound affect on our dream lives, is it possible that those influences can also translate the opposite way - from dream to real life?" Reality and the dream are a two way street, perhaps even a psychological multidimensional highway, to a paradisal playground, or to a hellish nightmare.



All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.