[Author’s note: Continuing with my exploration of metaphysics and consciousness, I am going to use the word ‘I’ in lieu of the word ‘we’ since I do not actually know the experiences of others much less be completely convinced of the existence of other minds despite how obvious it may seem. That said, I begin this blog with a key question that you may ask yourself, assuming you exist…]
Does it make sense that I can question reality when I am awake but not when I am asleep? When I dream, I often do not recognize that the storytelling is not linear or that the world is not obeying the laws of physics, but by the same token, does it make sense that in the ‘real’ world people should be so irrational? (Or that I should ever behave irrationally?) Moreover, does it make sense that so many aspects of nature be counter-intuitive, particularly when it comes to the observations made of the quantum world? Could I have ever arrived at the way in which quantum mechanics works by the use of reason without experimentation? [While, ahem, ‘others’ have arrived at some conclusions through mathematics, their mathematics did not predict something like wave-particle duality. And, mathematics indicates that the laws of physics breakdown beyond the event horizon of a black hole, but what does that actually mean?]
To reiterate the primary question: Does it make sense that I can question reality when I am awake but not when I am asleep? Of course, I am generalizing; most of the time I do not question the reality of a dream in much the same way I usually do not question the reality of the waking world when I am awake (assuming I am awake). However, there are instances in each situation when I do, and when I do, that is where the differences between the two realities lies. What happens when I am dreaming and I question whether or not what I am experiencing is real? I am able to take immediate control of the reality I am questioning in some fashion; I may wake myself up or literally change the situation more to my liking or materialize an object I need for the situation I am in. I may even fly. On the other hand, there have been times that I have questioned the reality of a dream because I did not want what I was experiencing to be a dream and I did not want anything to change. While I cannot always change (or keep from changing) everything that happens in the dream world, I cannot always change (or keep from changing) everything that happens in the waking world. But, I can change some things in both realities with the difference being the immediacy with which I can them. In the dream world, I can change things drastically, immediately. In the waking world I can change things drastically, but usually not immediately. What might this situation imply?
A wise man once remarked, “Dreams are real while they last. Can we say more of life?” That quote has led me to ponder that each reality may be equally real [definition below] although each may be obeying different laws of physics. Many theoretical physicist I’ve read seems to agree that when it comes to considering the possibility of a multi-verse in which my universe is one of many, there’s no telling what the laws of physics are in other universes. But, having never experienced what the laws of physics are in another universe, how am I able to imagine defying the ones I know in the universe in which I exist? How can I imagine the impossible unless what I imagine is possible somewhere? (Although, I might ask that even if I could imagine what is possible with a different set of physical laws, how could I possibly have access to that information?) If I give any credit to the theory that my imagination is an evolutionary trait that helps me ‘problem solve,’ I’m still bound to ask how such a trait evolved to the fantastic lengths that allow me to fly in my dreams. If there is a weakness in any such evolutionary Theory of Imagination, that’s it. At any rate, the difference in physics is the foremost difference between the dreaming and waking reality.
[‘Real’ meaning a world of extended objects that exists outside of the mind. Hence, the problem; I cannot prove the existence of extended objects when I am awake. How then can I be sure I am ever awake?]
Another assumed difference is the strengths of my ability to remember my dreams. When I wake up, whatever happened in my dreams flee from memory like water overflowing the edges of a bowl, except that almost all the water leaves. On the other hand, I’ll be the first to admit that my memory of events that have taken place in my waking life are not particularly accurate either. Furthermore, assuming the existence of other minds, numerous studies have revealed how notoriously unreliable people’s memories are. But both my dreams and waking experiences are remembered in some fashion, to a variety of degrees. If dreams were not in some sense real, why is there any recall of them to begin with? While there is no reason to assume I have evolved flawlessly (assuming evolution to be a correct in its theory), the ability to recall dreams seems rather odd. I can begin to accept that dreams may be an evolutionary tool for learning, though I have never seemed to learn anything from them. However, I don’t see the sense in recalling dreams if their supposed lessons can be stored unconsciously. Frankly, to recall dreams seems like a waste of memory resources, unless how real they are is in some way important. Isn’t that exactly what might be thought of on the importance of memories to the waking world? Memories of the waking world beget a third difference between dreaming and being awake – consistency.
It appears as though when I am awake, my reality is consistent. The same people, the same places, familiar situations; I have memories of them all from yesterday and before yesterday. Problematically, all of my memories may have been implanted by Descartes’ Demon mere moments ago and I would be none the wiser. In supposing this to be true, such an event would make my ability to question reality when I am ‘awake’ even more bizarre since it would not seem to be advantageous to any such spirit to allow me such a line of questioning (at least no advantage I can think of). Meanwhile, while dreaming, I find myself in many unfamiliar situations while my relationships are reimagined against scenery that is as often strange as it is known to me. When I dream, reality is less consistent, sometimes much less. This could be caused by the random firing of neurons triggering the memories they contain. When such memories clash, so to speak, it would make sense that my mind would attempt to construct a narrative based on conflicting reports, thus providing an explanation to the strangeness of dreams. But again, from an evolutionary perspective, the random firing of neurons seems inefficient. (Not that the process of evolution should provide efficiency necessarily.) While evidence supports the assertion that a good night’s sleep assists learning, it would seem more efficient for dreams to be somewhat more consistent (and/or memorable) when reinforcing what I learn. Since this is not the case, I must then ask ‘why do I dream?’ Do I not get enough of processing information when I am awake? Perhaps I am making connections I would not normally make when I am awake due to competing stimuli or that the strangeness of dreams allow me to think more abstractly, which allows for problem solving. In such a case, I can accept the strangeness of dreams but not why my memory of them is so weak.
Still, this difference in consistency and memorizing what happens in the world of my dreams vs. the ‘real’ world is diminished in importance when considering the afore mentioned differences of the assumed absurdity of physical behavior in dreams. Only, isn’t waking reality often as absurd? It may be absurd in a different fashion, but absurdity is common to each world(s). And, for me, the familiarity of nature’s absurd behavior (and the behavior of my fellow human beings) is of little comfort. Moreover, if I am inclined to think about the waking world through multiple lenses and not just on facts alone, such a perspective further heightens the absurdity of the world in which I am awake. This situation makes it difficult for me to accept the existence of other minds when I afford myself the time to think about it; it appears as though I am one of very few people who care to consider what something like the dual nature of light means to the fabric of reality or my own consciousness. The fact of light’s dual nature would seem perfectly at home in the world of dreams, but not in the world in which I am supposedly awake. If I had discovered the dual nature of light in my dreams, I would probably not question it. Being awake, however, I must question it and try to make sense of it because it is so counter-intuitive, because it is dreamlike in quality. This is the problem that makes me consider dreams as real as any other reality I may be experiencing.
No, it does not make sense that I can question reality when I am awake but not when I am asleep. Little of either so-called reality makes sense. What conclusion should I then draw? I am either asleep when I dream and awake when I am awake, asleep in both the dream world and the ‘waking’ world, or awake in both the ‘dream’ world and the waking world. [I am relying on the traditional English definitions of these words.] Or, I am neither asleep nor awake; I am in a state for which obviously no word exists. Perhaps there should be. Clearly the either-or premise upon which the waking world operates is flawed. It is time to explore other options.