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Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My University Press
July 15, 2012 7:11 AM   Subscribe

What is the probability that you are dreaming right now? asks Jan Westerhoff, author of Oxford University Press' Reality: A Very Short Introduction (large excerpts at Google Books). Westerhoff explains that since it's accepted that about 20% of time sleeping is REM (dreaming) sleep, if you sleep 8 hours a night, then 10% of your "conscious" time is actually dream time.*

*Actually, if 1.6 hours of dream time is added to 16 hours of awake time, then 1.6/17.6 is closer to 9%, but who expects a Philosopher to be good at math?

The piece also quotes research suggesting that dream time passes at about the same rate as waking time, invalidating most fictional uses of "it was all a dream" ("The Wizard of Oz", "Newhart", the recent TV series "Awake" and that story I 'spoiled' two years ago).

It also addresses the practice of reality-testing to find out whether we are really dreaming, including looking at a piece of printed text twice to see whether the letters have changed. So it was with some dismay I discovered that Amazon.com listed Westerhoff's Reality book at 144 pages, while Amazon UK had it at 136 pages. Is this a dream? Am I a butterfly dreaming I'm a Mefite? Or is Reality just shorter in England?

But seriously, the entire Very Short Introduction series of books (currently over 300 topics) looks, as Stephen Fry would say, quite interesting...
posted by oneswellfoop (88 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
What is the probability that you are dreaming right now?

I'm fully clothed and I don't have a final exam in an hour, so, yeah, not too high.
posted by escabeche at 7:22 AM on July 15, 2012 [44 favorites]


As a semi-regular lucid dreamer, I very much doubt that the passage of time is generalisable from lucid to non-lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a qualitatively and perceptible different state to normal dreaming, in the same way that waking consciousness is. I frequently have subjectively long dreams in the five minutes between hitting snooze and my alarm going off again.

Positing, unsupported, the idea that all dream-like states are the same is a real problem here. I'd suggest philosophy leaves the vague and unconvincing explorations of consciousness to cognitive science.
posted by howfar at 7:35 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've had dreams which, subjectively, took months (in dream-time); however, the impermanence of effect in those dreams (and the oddness of the situations as compared to my daily life) make it highly unlikely that I'm dreaming. I certainly wouldn't put it at 10%. Perhaps, in the pre-Internet times, this would have been more believable; but we leave a day-to-day record of our actions online, now.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2012


I think I am awake, but then again I have just come back from the mall (which was on stilts two hundred feet above a lake) where I was hanging out with my cousin and David Bowie, who insisted we call him Jim, so yeah, maybe.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:40 AM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


About ten years ago I practiced lucid dreaming, not without success. Nowadays I seldom dream lucid but I do a reality check (counting my fingers) every time something dreamlike happens. As for example something realy strange happens or, more subtle, there's a certain atmospehere in a room. Or when someone talks about dreams and lucid dreaming. This was a common theme of my dreams when I was practicing dream techniques since I focused a lot on these things when I was awake. I counted my fingers right now and they are five on each hand and very normal looking. This means I'm not dreaming and then probably you are not either. But you should of course not trust me and instead start practicing reality checks.
posted by pica at 7:45 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The real question is: what was the probability that I was listening to You May Already Be Dreaming when I saw this post?

Kinda freaking out here, man. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me to wake up.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:47 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


My spinning top is going to topple over any second now. Any second...
posted by meronym at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


One other issue not mentioned by the article is how for me (and I believe most people) things that happen in dreams are forgotten moments after awakening, although I've reached the age where more things in my waking experience are also forgotten within moments. Anyway, who is the asshat who posted this?
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm clearly not dreaming. In the dream universe I usually frequent, I'm a rock-star with an ability to fly and dodge tigers in elaborate ruses. None of that us happening now.
posted by the cydonian at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lucid dreaming is a qualitatively and perceptible different state to normal dreaming, in the same way that waking consciousness is. I frequently have subjectively long dreams in the five minutes between hitting snooze and my alarm going off again.

Another lucid dreamer here, my reality check are questions. How did I get here, why am I here, what is going on? That's usually enough to convince me I'm in different reality - and I've had some nightmares that have taken DAYS worth of subjective time and I wake up totally exhausted.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 AM on July 15, 2012


Once, when I was in counseling, I proposed a similar "What if this is a dream?" line of discussion with my counselor. All he said was "Don't go there."
posted by Thorzdad at 8:07 AM on July 15, 2012 [16 favorites]


"But whether there is consciousness in dreams appears to depend entirely on what we take consciousness to be."

Yeah. It sure does. And that's where the entire discussion, particularly the "probability calculation" pretty much disintegrates, doesn't it?

Not that I don't like bar-room philosophizing about consciousness as much as the next mind-containing entity...
posted by mondo dentro at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The world in my dreams is markedly differently-looking than my waking world. It's much sketchier. Details are missing, facial features are blurry. Everyone is sort of iconic, by which I mean if a guy in my dream is my friend John, it's not because he looks like John, but because he's basically a stick figure with an arrow pointing to him with "John" scrawled on the tail end of the arrow. I don't mean that literally, but it's as if some dream narrator says, "Accept that blob over there as John," and in my dream, a blob is good enough. I don't care about specific details.

I know* I'm awake now, because everything is hyper sharp, in focus, and spectacularly textured. I can pick objects up and turn them over, examining them carefully, noticing tiny specs of dust.

[* I am using "know" casually. I realize there are existential and epistemological problems with my claims. I could be in a dream right now, confabulating this distinction between real life and dream life. Maybe I'll wake up, find myself in a fuzzy world, and say, "Isn't it funny how I dreamed that dreams were blurry when, in fact, they're really sharp and it's the real world that's blurry"?]

One of the major differences between dream-life and real-life, for me, is that in real life I think of the differences between dream-life and real-life. There's a meta aspect to my waking life that is absent from my dreams. In a dream, it would never occur to me to say, "Well, this must be a dream, because everything is so stylized and blurred." The fact that I can even ask "Is this a dream?" means it's not.

I always accept dream reality without poking at it, to see if it's real. That thing people do in movies to see if they're dreaming or not -- when they pinch themselves -- if I even thought to do that, I'd know I was awake. The dream me doesn't know dreams exist. He only knows about reality, and he assumes he's in it.

I am the least lucid of dreamers.
posted by grumblebee at 8:26 AM on July 15, 2012 [23 favorites]


This line of reasoning relies on the assumption that there's no way to determine whether or not you are dreaming. Pretty much any time I think of the question about whether it's a dream or not, I correctly figure out that I'm dreaming, and I've never thought I was dreaming when I was actually awake. Even disregarding the often bizarre situations that dreams tend to create, my mind just doesn't create a convincing enough fake reality to make me question actual reality, so it only takes me a second of glancing around and seeing such a complicated and detailed 3-dimensional world to know that it's not a dream.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:26 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


What if this is a dream? What if all of this is a dream? What if all of this is a dream, and it’s not even our dream, it’s that dogs dream. Maybe we’re just existing in his mind, and all of a sudden he’ll wake up to go drink out of the toilet and we’ll be gone. What would happen to us if that dog wakes up? It’ll be over.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:29 AM on July 15, 2012


I agree that time passage during normal dreaming compared to lucid dreaming is very different. I find in my lucid dreams that I pay closer attention to everything that's going on, much like normal consciousness. During normal dreams, I'll often go from one scene to another, which gives the impression that much time has passed. However, there is a lot of missing detail (and time) that is unaccounted for.
posted by orme at 8:31 AM on July 15, 2012


Is this shade of blue that I perceive the same shade of blue that you perceive? OR IS IT REALLY A PROFESSIONAL WHITE BACKGROUND.
posted by elizardbits at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Some years ago I had to get up quite early for a flight and I did not trust my alarm 100%. I wanted to find someone to call me at 6:00 AM and the first name that came to mind was "Mom," as my mother gets up at 5:15 or so for no reason that I can fathom. I called her up and asked her if she would mind giving me a call at six the next morning. She agreed, and I hit the sack.

The following morning I was woken by my ringing phone. I looked at my clock and saw it was 6:03, then answered the phone. My mother said, "Here, I want you to listen to something." There there was silence. I lay there wondering if I was supposed to be hearing her cat's notably loud purring or something, but then thought, "No, this is weird... I think I am dreaming."

I then woke up for real and saw it was 5:59. Two minutes later, my mother actually did call to verify I was up. Not only did I wake up at the time I needed to, I got exactly the wake-up call I had requested from my subconscious. Note that efforts ever since then to get wake-up calls involving Scarlett Johansson in various fashions have come to naught.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2012 [17 favorites]


Obviously this is Vishnu's dream.
posted by localroger at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you feel physical pain while dreaming? (That is, pain which doesn't come from a source outside of the dream, such as someone doing something to you while you're asleep.) Is that whole "pinch yourself to see if you're dreaming" thing true? I've never felt physical pain in my dreams, only emotional pain. My dreams feel more rooted in emotional sensation than physical sensation.
posted by autoclavicle at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2012


What is the probability that you are dreaming right now?

No, Gorn, that's MY spot.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:58 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently lost consciousness ("syncope" in med-speak). As a mind-nerd it was most interesting (in retrospect) because I got to experience (fortunately) my consciousness "rebooting". What I experienced was very different from the kind of confusion I get in dreams (i.e. between dream/awake states).

It was in a way more extreme in that there was a brief period that is hard to describe, but it was initially as if there was no "I". It seemed as if the sensory system came online first, pure indifferentiated sensations, then confusion about what it all was as the perceptual system tried to sort things out, then I became aware of "I" when "the world" sort of snapped in place. This last part is neat, because it was as if the subjective experience of "I" and "world" popped into my reality at the same time. The entire event lasted no more than about 1 minute, I think.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:00 AM on July 15, 2012 [18 favorites]


I don't get the point of reality checks. This is one of the few cases where pascals wager applies. If you think you are awake and really dreaming, and you behave as of you are awake, then literally nothing bad can happen to you, it's all a dream.

If you think you are dreaming but are really awake, and behave as if you are dreaming, than the consequences could be catastrophic-- see the Thomas Covenant Chronicles for an exploration of this, and the many people suffering from this delusion in real life.

One should treat every conscious moment as if it matters.
posted by empath at 9:23 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is that whole "pinch yourself to see if you're dreaming" thing true?

I can tell you that its a lot less embarrassing than the "jump out of a window" test.
posted by goethean at 9:24 AM on July 15, 2012


His dream time is seriously not compressible to me. He seems to be starting by deducting dream time from hours awake.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:33 AM on July 15, 2012


I can tell you that its a lot less embarrassing than the "jump out of a window" test.

Are you referring to Mike Birbiglia's sleep walking stories?
posted by mondo dentro at 9:34 AM on July 15, 2012


I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnoea, and now have one of those funky CPAP machines that blow gentle zephyrs into my lungs overnght (am currently designing a facehugger mask to go with...).

The diagnostic results from the sleep clinic showed I had around fifty incidents an hour when I stopped breathing, to the point I nearly-woke due to suffocation, which is pretty extreme. As has been the improvement in my sleep now I look like a horizontal fighter pilot overnight.

But... so far, in about a month of using it, I've had no dreams that I remember. Which is quite a change; I reckon on having about one or two memorable dreams a week, some surprisingly complex - I've got a whole Third Man style film noir script to write from notes I made hiurriedly on waking earlier this year, and it's quite an epic.

Other things known to affect dreaming are alcohol and cannabis use, but no change there... I'm drinking a lot less coffee now I'm not half-asleep all the time, but that's about it.

Anyone else? I'm guessing that I'm not the only Masked Mefite.
posted by Devonian at 9:35 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not dreaming now because i remember what I'm doing afterward well enough to explain it to people.
posted by Green With You at 9:35 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone is sort of iconic, by which I mean if a guy in my dream is my friend John, it's not because he looks like John, but because he's basically a stick figure with an arrow pointing to him with "John" scrawled on the tail end of the arrow. I don't mean that literally, but it's as if some dream narrator says, "Accept that blob over there as John," and in my dream, a blob is good enough. I don't care about specific details.

I've always wondered if the kind of tacit, immutable knowledge that we get in dreams -- "That blob is John," or "That guy standing there is a devil," or "I'm a messenger of God on a mission" -- underlies what it's like to be delusional, for example in schizophrenia. Maybe it's all one big dream state gone horribly wrong.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:38 AM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


What is the probability that you are dreaming right now?

Zero, because that sentence is the same every time I read it.
posted by Malor at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's like these researchers based their studies on conversations they overheard my 9th grade friends and I having when we were stoned. Outstanding!
posted by item at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am confused about one thing, however: should I go ahead and shoo away this backwards-talking dwarf that won't stop dancing on my checkered kitchen floor, or is there the slightest of slight chances that I'm just dreaming about him?
posted by item at 9:58 AM on July 15, 2012


I'm currently reading Stephen LaBerge's Lucid Dreaming, which covers this in some detail. Well worth a read.

He mentions at one point a number of tests they carried out on the passage of time in dreams, and concluded that it passes at the same rate as when awake. This came as a surprise to me, as I once dreamt my entire day at work in between morning alarms. He thinks that dreams of longer periods of time work much as a movie might, creating the illusion of passing time but not actually showing every detail.

This makes sense, I suppose, as our brains can only go so fast. And it kind of knackers the theory that gets a mention in Linklater's Waking Life, in which our final moments stretch into infinity, and life is replayed before death (raising the question, is this Live, or the Rerun?).

Fascinating stuff.
posted by Acey at 10:00 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's like these researchers based their studies on conversations they overheard my 9th grade friends and I having when we were stoned. Outstanding!

I believe the next Probability that the Universe is merely an Atom in a Giant's Toenail study is forthcoming.
posted by jonmc at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In last night's dream, my Dad and I are on this RV road trip (I think dinosaurs are involved somehow; credit reading "The Lost World" just before going to sleep), and we stop in at the house of an old pastor of ours. The pastor (an imposing, bearded man) explains to me that even though he knows I'm a tremendous flake who has disappointed him and everyone else at every opportunity, he'll give me one last modicum of trust: while my father occupies the guest room, I can take the room of his absent daughter.

The daughter never appeared in the dream, but she once occupied a very important part in my life, being the first post-pubescent focus of what I later identified as a pathology in my behavior: a tendency to develop creepy, unilateral obsessions in the absence of reciprocated relationships. She was the first of three foci (victims of what was fortunately rather mild stalker-ish behavior) before self-awareness and circumstances combined to nullify the failing. Although I think of her perhaps only once or twice a year, in the context of this dream her impression of me is suddenly paramount.

The daughter has a personal computer in her room, and I haven't been forbidden to use it, so I fire it up to read my e-mail and google up a review of a video game (dinosaur-themed, naturally) that was just released before going to sleep. All very innocent things.

I wake up (still in the context of the dream), and start to pack my things to continue the road trip. I'm looking for an important piece of paper, but can't find it. I find a piece of paper crumpled up on the daughter's dresser, and I straighten it out, thinking that it might be mine, and I'd crumpled it up thoughtlessly. It isn't my paper; it's a listing of all my web activity from last night: Gmail, some other utility sites... and a site with a title that included the words "Dirty Whores". I belatedly discover that the website on which I had read the googled video game review had an ironically titillating name in the title bar.

The pastor had seen that name, and I was now not only a flake in his eyes, but a pervert as well. Worse, he would undoubtedly tell his daughter.

That was when I woke up, for real this time. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, my mind still inhabiting the emotional environment of the dream, and wishing that I had a gun nearby to end it all.
posted by The Confessor at 10:07 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know I'm not dreaming right now because I can't read when I'm dreaming. The words go all funny and strange.

...well, maybe I'm not dreaming...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:15 AM on July 15, 2012


My most confusing dreams are actually layered. They are usually nightmares and involve attempts to escape something, run away from something, or fight something off and are made more confusing and distressing by the fact that my dream body is usually very slow, clumsy, and weak – making my struggles ineffectual. When I finally manage to win out and "wake up", I then find (after a few minutes in which I think I am free) that the cycle begins again. This can happen two or three times and when I do truly regain consciousness I find that I am usually suffering from sleep paralysis. After that fades, I generally will get up and walk around a bit to prove to myself that everything is working normally and that I'm really, truly awake. It's a very distressing experience and I'm glad that it hasn't happened recently.
posted by Scientist at 10:19 AM on July 15, 2012


Anyone else? I'm guessing that I'm not the only Masked Mefite.

A coworker recently started using a CPAP, and also reports that she doesn't remember dreaming since she started. I've been using one for a year and a half, and my dreams are as vivid and plot-ful as ever. There might have been a break-in period at the beginning when I didn't have any dreams; I'm not sure now.
posted by hades at 10:23 AM on July 15, 2012


I know I'm not dreaming right now because I can't read when I'm dreaming. The words go all funny and strange.

Good point. Two more things about dreams and language:

1) Years ago I travelled for a while with a Swiss woman. Her English was not that great, but my French was okay, so we spoke in French 95% of the time. A couple of years after I had last seen her, I dreamt I called her at home in Geneva. Her brother, whom I knew of, but had never actually met, answered the phone. I asked in English to speak to Karine, and he said, "Elle ne peut pas venir au téléphone en ce moment parce qu'elle fait ses devoirs." I replied that I did not speak French, so he said in heavily accented English, "She cannot come to the telephone right now because she is doing her homework." I thanked him and left a message. When I woke up I realized, Hey I do speak French, and how exactly did my brain supply me grammatically perfect French which my brain was unable to understand?

2) As I mentioned once before on the blue, in a dream I once had some Japanese people tell me that Hello Kitty was a poor translation of the actual name of the character, which I was then told was "Neko Hajememashite." This is the Japanese for, "Cat, I am pleased to meet you."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:27 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's a pro dreaming tip that I have no idea if it will apply to anyone else. If you're having one of those dreams where you're being chased/pursued by something/someone, and you get that sensation where your running is incredibly weak/slow/unbalanced -- get low. Run practically horizontal, pushing your feet behind you, maybe even 'climbing' along the ground with your hands, running like a dog. You'll regain your speed!

I've always wondered if that's some kind of brain-stem level reversion to running/moving on all fours.
posted by Drexen at 10:28 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps this explains all the merry gentle rowing down that stream.
posted by moshjosh at 10:32 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know I'm not dreaming right now because I can't read when I'm dreaming. The words go all funny and strange.

Yeah, the circuitry in your brain that's used for reading shuts down when you're asleep, so if words on a page are stable and don't change, if you can read something the same way more than once, you're awake.

I'm not sure what's actually happening when you read in a dream, because it feels like you're doing it successfully, but the parsed content of the message will be different every time. This has puzzled me awake more than once. "Wait, what?" is a strong anti-sedative for me, it seems.

Thus, my comment above, "Zero, because that sentence is the same every time I read it." I thought most folks already knew that, so I was being terse in an attempt to be (slightly) amusing. Apparently, it's not the common knowledge I thought it was.
posted by Malor at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2012


Actually, we are all in the dream of Quincy the Iguana.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2012


I don't get the point of reality checks.

I think most people do it for the purpose of experimenting with lucid dreaming. Regular reality checking eventually makes it into your dream, which leads to you realizing that you're dreaming.
posted by orme at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2012


My dreams are usually so surreal they make Ingmar Bergman films look like 60 Minutes.

Only the 2004 re-election of Bush could compare.
posted by Twang at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But is it reasonable to assume that there are moments of consciousness outside of the waking state? Norman Malcolm argued in 1956 that this was logically impossible, claiming that “if a person is in any state of consciousness it logically follows that he is not sound asleep.”
I feel that talking about sleep often breaks downs because of the words we use. Most folk take "awake" and "asleep" to be two different things, very black and white and clearly separable. Those who experience lucid dreaming or sleep paralysis get a slight understanding that there is some grey area between the two, with a "body sleep" and a "mind sleep", which should--but don't always--match up. I suffer quite heavily from both and have experienced a whole spectrum between a wonderful deep and involuntary dream to wide-awakeness while being unable to move. It feels like there is so much more to describe that our words don't do.

For even within this acknowledged spectrum between sleep and waking, there are differing kinds of mismatches between brain and body. The best lucid dreams are those where you dream in full and sharp color, with an awareness of dreaming and complete control, but no overriding sense of being bodily asleep--a rare but amazing thing. Yet you can also have a hazy murky dream over which you have no control, but still have an awareness of your body being asleep with your eyes shut and your breathing on automatic, feeling like you're suffocating and blind. Or even be bodily unable to move yet have your eyes open and seeing, but all the while dreaming with the mind's creations overlaid on your bedroom wall, and half knowing that your stuck in waking-up limbo but unable to do anything about it.

I wish there were some better way of putting all of this into words.
posted by Jehan at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In a dream, it would never occur to me to say, "Well, this must be a dream, because everything is so stylized and blurred." The fact that I can even ask "Is this a dream?" means it's not.

While generally in agreement with your experience/post, I've always left this claim out because when I was young this happened:

(1) I had a dream about a giant crab attacking my school and my buddy and I hiding behind the special ed. trailer.

(2) I had the dream again, but

(3) In this recurrence, I was aware of the familiar plot, and while hiding behind the trailer with by friend, I instructed him to hit me on the head with a log (because I knew it was a dream)

(4) He hit me on the head with it, and I woke up
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drexen: Here's a pro dreaming tip that I have no idea if it will apply to anyone else. If you're having one of those dreams where you're being chased/pursued by something/someone, and you get that sensation where your running is incredibly weak/slow/unbalanced -- get low. Run practically horizontal, pushing your feet behind you, maybe even 'climbing' along the ground with your hands, running like a dog. You'll regain your speed!

I've always wondered if that's some kind of brain-stem level reversion to running/moving on all fours
That's interesting, because I do that a lot too (uh, in dreams); the ground becomes a wall you scale quickly, and it feels far more natural than walking.
autoclavicle: Can you feel physical pain while dreaming? (That is, pain which doesn't come from a source outside of the dream, such as someone doing something to you while you're asleep.) Is that whole "pinch yourself to see if you're dreaming" thing true? I've never felt physical pain in my dreams, only emotional pain. My dreams feel more rooted in emotional sensation than physical sensation.
That's an old wive's tale, along with the "You can't die in your dreams". I've died many times in dreams, and one in particular I recall was being violently shot full of bullets. It felt very real, very painful, and then I woke up. I've also lucid dreamed books that were and remained readable repeatedly (well, as much as you can trust your dream state to tell you the words were persistent).

Overall, it would be strange to assume there is anything your brain can't imagine in a dream, that it could see/experience in waking life.
ricochet biscuit: When I woke up I realized, Hey I do speak French, and how exactly did my brain supply me grammatically perfect French which my brain was unable to understand?
Having those experiences on drugs or in dreams does remind us that it's as if our brains are so busy double-checking and triple-checking what we do and say, that we're operating at a very low efficiency rate. I've certainly had experiences on drugs/dreaming where my ability to do something felt unblocked and effortless; it's as if most of the time we're running a simulation of reality as a flash app in our browser, and then every now and then we slip into kernel mode drivers and can't believe we ever found it difficult. I mean, consider 88 notes in the piano, and only 12 distinct tones in the western musical scale. These are trivial numbers when you consider how many words we handle, how much our brains can do- so why are we not all Franz Liszt?

There was a FPP relatively recently about a writer who had tried one of those transcranial magnets (?) and then shot some arrows, and found when in this 'state', it seemed the most effortless, easy thing in the world, and they were profoundly more accurate than they'd been a few minutes earlier. I can understand why we'd be evolved to be hesitant about anything we do- for example, I might think I'd be awesome at Parkour if I was on LSD and feeling loose, but if I'm wrong with even one step... but in our Nerf-like, highly safe modern world, we can surely afford to unleash the brain in "kernel mode" in certain controlled circumstances.
Everyone is sort of iconic, by which I mean if a guy in my dream is my friend John, it's not because he looks like John, but because he's basically a stick figure with an arrow pointing to him with "John" scrawled on the tail end of the arrow. I don't mean that literally, but it's as if some dream narrator says, "Accept that blob over there as John," and in my dream, a blob is good enough. I don't care about specific details.
greatgefilte: I've always wondered if the kind of tacit, immutable knowledge that we get in dreams -- "That blob is John," or "That guy standing there is a devil," or "I'm a messenger of God on a mission" -- underlies what it's like to be delusional, for example in schizophrenia. Maybe it's all one big dream state gone horribly wrong
That's basically true: dreaming and drugs both make you realize how much of what we think of as the world is fabricated in our minds, with the shortcut of using the language and labels we assign to things. This doesn't mean we're all crazy, but it shows how fragile (yet persistent- that the vast, vast majority of people who use LSD et al don't stay permanently crazy is kind of a wonder in itself) the whole system is.

Our brains are amazing, the way they interpret the gigabytes of information coming in every second, and give it meaning- but that also means it uses a lot of shortcuts and reductions. There was a FPP a while back about an experiment with color, where "western" eyes couldn't see the difference between two shades of green, while some tribesmen could do so easily- but had trouble with distinguishing shades of blue that we westerners did not. They chalked it up to our language having more/fewer words for those colors. You see the same thing when people who aren't exposed to certain phonemes early on can never really hear/reproduce them; how tonal languages allegedly give people better sense of pitch, or how non-trained musicians can't hear the difference between notes/chords with the distinction that people who can give them a label can do so.

There's some sort of personal revelation to be found in the melange that is our understanding that one of the causes of sleep might be that the brain needs to "defragment"; our non-lucid and lucid dream states and how they compare to waking life; the persistence of our sense of self to both injury and powerful psychological experiences as well as its gradual mutability; various 'maladjustments' such as schizophrenia or autism; and how what we see/hear is based heaviliy on our label/language filters (which if you've done hallucinogens you know well how the world can seem when those filters are out on a coffee break).

I don't know what that revelation is, but it's like that feeling of a word you can't quite think of, or a picture you can't quite visualize. You know it's there, but you can't really bring it to the forefront of your conscious mind. Guess I should just go downstairs and smoke some DMT...
posted by hincandenza at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


The fact that I can even ask "Is this a dream?" means it's not.

Actually, I find myself fairly frequently taking control of my dreams because I'm aware that they ARE dreams. This typically only comes out when I'm in a frustrating or frightening dream of some kind, especially frustrating... I get annoyed that something isn't working, realize that it's a dream, and change the rules.

Example: some months ago, I was in some dream where I was looking and looking and looking for something. Couldn't find it anywhere. This was about the time I realized this was a dream, and I very consciously said, "Oh, here it is!" and pulled whatever it was out from behind my back, and then continued the dream from there. The awareness and control were only partial and momentary, only enough to 'hack' the dream, as it were, rather than really changing its nature. My subconscious wasn't, however, able to argue with me about 'finding the lost item', and the subsequent dream went down more normal paths. (Whatever they were; I have no idea anymore.)

So, the question can come up for me, and it sometimes actually IS 'yes, I am dreaming, and that's why I'm confused/angry/frustrated'. That often gives me enough control to either wake up or to fix things.

I've wondered if video gaming hasn't impacted that -- the constant ability to reload from save and to change one's environment seems to have soaked into my subconscious on a very deep level.
posted by Malor at 11:39 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I fall asleep easily day or night to the point I have to be careful when I'm closing my eyes to visualize something sitting at my table here that I don't drop my chin to my chest and go to sleep for 20 min. or so, and it's comparatively rare for me to wake from sleep at any time not in the middle of a dream. I'm starting to think all this dreaming might be messing with my ability to get deep sleep.

I often have to fight unkillable opponents in my dreams that I can overpower but never defeat; one night some time back, I was folding one of these guys up like a road map when suddenly his hand shot out of the bundle and started choking me, and nothing I was able to do would dislodge it.

I woke up to find my left hand squeezing my throat hard-- though not as hard as it could, thankfully-- and this has been an ongoing theme of my nightmares, to wake up and find my left hand doing something painful like poking me in the eye, or -- once, years ago-- squeezing my balls.

It does things I don't want it to do when I'm awake, too, but much more rarely, and it has saved my bacon at least twice.
posted by jamjam at 11:40 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Precisely how long is it since you had your hand transplant at the Dahmer Clinic, jamjam?
posted by howfar at 11:54 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am certain I am dreaming because I can not account for large chunks of my "conscious" time. Evidence would suggest that I used the bathroom and brushed my teeth this morning but it would seem my memory of it is an almagam of the hundreds of times I've done it before. It all blends together.

In fact if I think hard about the last week I can only pick out a few incidents and general feelings -- driving to work but no actual details, making small talk with people but no sense of content or who it was with, etc. And it gets much worse two weeks ago and hopeless three weeks back.

Or perhaps I have it reversed. Perhaps that's proof that I am not dreaming, because only in dreams do I seem to have clear memories of the past.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:00 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


that Amazon.com listed Westerhoff's Reality book at 144 pages, while Amazon UK had it at 136 pages.

I have the book in my hands. The last numbered page says 123. The last roman-numeral'd page says xii. There's a final unnumbered end page with an advertisement. I guess that's 136.

I started this book a while back but thought it started rather poorly talking about a 'waking from dream to another dream' scenario. Of course everyone has had this experience in a dream, but I can't imagine taking it seriously, as really waking from one dream level to another. I thought it was a poor start for what I'd hoped would be a serious book.
posted by DarkForest at 12:02 PM on July 15, 2012


My most vivid dreams usually involve the repetitive behavior utilized in my hobbies.

1. When I was of high school age, I had a dream that I was looking out the car window (my family used to take tons of road trips) watching for birds. I saw a blue eagle of some kind. When I woke up, it took me about 10 minutes to wonder why I was vaguely searching through my bird guide and holding my "life list book" in my other hand.

2. Since I've started taking pictures of moths, I've had several dreams of repeatedly scanning brick walls under bright white lights and finding fantastically colored wings lying flat. I tend to wake up somewhat twitchy though, since these nightly escapades are linked to being bitten by mosquitoes and gnats as well as having flying ants or beetles land on my clothes or in my hair constantly.

Finally, with the odd hours and random sleeplessness the military has gifted me, I tend to have a couple checks I run through when someone knocks on the door to wake me up for whatever reason:
"What time is it?"
"What day is it?"
"Am I dreaming?"
Each of these are followed by relatively long (about 20 to 30 seconds) of staring and blinking slowly, occasional vague cursing for no reason, and their concerned questions of "Are you alright? Dog, are you sure you're okay?"

I really want to try lucid dreaming, but I'm kind of afraid since I already have such vivid dreams that I already have to run through checks....
posted by DisreputableDog at 12:10 PM on July 15, 2012


My worst dreams, and they've happened since I was in high school at least, are when I dream that I'm going to school, university, or work. I get up, have a shower, brush my teeth, start walking, it's all happening, and then my alarm goes off and I have to wake up and start all over again from scratch. Sometimes it happens between hitting the snooze button (I wake up and snooze has already been hit).

My words dream, which started happening when I was in school, are when I dream that I start my daily trip to university, work, or school. I wake up, drink some coffee, walk out the door, the full deal, and as it's all happening, my alarm goes off and I have to wake up and start all over again from scratch. It sometimes happens between when I hit snooze. (I wake up and I can see that snooze is already hit)

Does that happen to anyone else?

sorry to mess with your reality checks

More seriously I think that those subjectively long dreams must be a factor of what I call "symlink memory". If you know a situation reasonably well, you can be induced to remember all 3 hours of it, but the induction doesn't necessarily need to take three hours. Like the way I can visualise playing a 3 minute piece of music in 1 minute, unhindered by physicality.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The majority of my dreams are in third person. When I'm dreaming I'm simultaneously an actor in the dream and a removed observer. This gives my dreams a certain sense of fluidity and as a result, as well as the fact that my dreams often have dramatic arcs, the person I'm dreaming I am is very rarely "me." It's just whatever character is the most interesting to be. One surprising upshot of this is that I've died in dreams occasionally, for example I was once leaping fantastically through the air but I missed the landing and crashed into the broadside of a barn and died. When this happened my viewpoint shifted automatically like a scene change and I was now the FBI agent investigating the accident. My subconscious seems to also like performing random reality checks, mostly by looking at books and text, which occasionally lands me in the absurd situation where the character I'm dreaming I am knows they are in a dream, but as the removed observer it doesn't register enough for me to take control of the dream, so the character proceeds to try and document the dream by writing it all down and taking pictures. For obvious reasons this never really turns out as well as I'd hoped.

I also dream in video games sometimes. That is my mind will take the abstracted rules and visuals from games and craft a dream out of them. For instance I've dreamt in overhead 2D. Or I'll have extra lives or go back to a check point if I die. I'm not remembering many good examples for the moment, but I suppose the most jarring one was being a knight facing off against two black mages, when unexpectedly a combat menu popped up and I was able to select a special attack that I didn't know I had.
posted by CheshireCat at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have what I'd call "dreamscapes" or rather A dreamscape. It's connected via some strange dark part of my subconscious whereby this various loci are related via emotive sensation. But further than that, there are a few of these dreams that I know are connected to each other spatially, such that this dream happened in this part of the larger dreamworld, and this other dream happened over here. I can tell by how the dream feels if it's connected to that specific dreamscape. I think a lot of my dreams are just sort of random, but every once in a while, I feel this hidden connection between these dreams. Maybe some sort of Jungian thing.

That said, of course I'm not dreaming silly.

Dreams are amazingly fucking awesome, is all I gotta say.
posted by symbioid at 1:39 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suffer from lucid dreaming - can't imagine why anyone would explore this on purpose. I know these real, detailed experiences are dreams, but they sometimes make me worry wether my actual experiences are real.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 PM on July 15, 2012


I usually have somewhat boring dreams about whatever subject I am immersed in at school and my hobbies, or dream of performing whatever skill it is I've been exercising or teaching myself. It's only when I'm in a rut and not learning new things that my dreams get really weird. I'm convinced there's some aspect of dreams that involves cementing learning.
posted by floam at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2012


I have lucid dreams when I am sleeping uncomfortably, such as sleeping during the daytime when there is a lot of noise. My theory was always that the noise/uncomfortableness kept me half awake, which made them lucid.

The worst were when I would know I was dreaming, and knew a really scary, horrifying thing was threatening to happen to me, and I desperately tried to wake myself up, but was unable to. "Wake up. WAKE UP!" I would scream, as the terror approached.

That's what stopped me from sleeping during the day in college.

Perhaps my weirdest dream was when I was having lots of bad thoughts about where my life was going. In my dream I asked God to show me what my future was. He answered: "Take a peak behind that curtain over there. You can see your future life. The catch is, I won't let you remember what you see, but I'll let you remember your emotional response to what you see."

I took a peak and thought "I'm really not sure if this is good or bad." And looking back on my life, I'd say that's pretty much how I would describe it.

(I also dreamed actually dying in a nuclear explosion, and woke up in a panic after dreaming several minutes of absolutely nothing--I always heard you couldn't dream death).
posted by eye of newt at 5:30 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my most frequent recurring dream themes is of wandering lost somewhere, looking for someone or something. In my dreams I've been lost in schools, airports, a hospital, a strange city... always wandering up and down hallways, in and out of rooms, searching for something.

So not too long ago I was at the mall, and somehow got separated from my husband. I started walking around the mall, up and down the escalators, in and out of stores, and finally I started to get really frustrated that I couldn't find him. I thought to myself "this reminds me of those dreams I have" and no sooner did I have the thought than I woke up in bed. That was weird.

Also not too long ago I dreamed I was looking for a toilet because I had to pee really bad. After a long time I finally found one, sat down and tried to pee but I couldn't go. I remember really pushing, trying to get the flow started, and it just wouldn't start. Finally I woke up, staggered sleepily to the bathroom, sat down and peed for real. Just as I started going I had a moment of panic... what if I'm still dreaming? Turned out I was genuinely awake... this time. I once actually did wet the bed as an adult because I dreamed I was on the toilet. A part of my mind must have been aware that I was dreaming, as I remember my mind screaming "noooooooooo!" which startled me awake mid-pee. Nothing quite so humiliating as having to wake up your significant other to tell him you need to change the sheets and turn the mattress.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:57 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago I had a dream that a bunch of people from my high school were asked to come to a reunion in a remote place, and as the reunion approached, we all started remembering things that seemed impossible or wrong from our pasts. When we got to the reunion, we were told that we had been given false memories of high school because really, our high school experience had been something quite different (we had been the inspiration for a popular fantasy book) and we had been put in a kind of "witness protection program" so deep that even we could not be allowed to remember what had gone on. We were all given whole new lives, and memories to match. The intervening years had made it safer to tell us who we really were, so they'd called us all together to get our real memories back.

They had tried to make the false memories correspond somewhat to our real lives, and most of us had read the book in question, so we could all work out on our own which characters in the book we had been, who our teachers had been, etc. But the events in the book had been somewhat fictionalized (in part so they wouldn't trigger our memory recoveries) so people who'd been friends in the book hated each other in "real life", for instance.

I woke up feeling incredibly disoriented. My dream had just told me that my whole past as I remembered it up to the end of high school was false, and my real life was the plot of a book I'd read. I had bought the dream-logic so thoroughly that I didn't stop believing it for several days. It made so much sense as the dream had constructed it that a number of things from my past that I had always wondered about now seemed suddenly more sensical because they were serving specific purposes in making the false memories comport more closely with the "actual reality" from the book.

Even now I'll occasionally have a day where my head gets into a weird place and I wonder whether that dream was true. Definitely that takes the cake for mind fuckery in dreamland as far as I'm concerned.
posted by town of cats at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've found in the last few years that there are times that the dreams I have, if I decode them according to the imagery, and make words from the pictures like in a rebus, and connect the words, my sub-consciousness is making immature and sarcastic wiseass dirty remarks about certain events in my life.

It's like a mischievous imp in there or something...

Anyhow, I think I'll go bake a cake now...
posted by Skygazer at 6:08 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and also: I've definitely felt pain in dreams. I once was stabbed in the leg in a dream and it hurt so much that it woke me up. It kept hurting for about an hour - no mark or anything, just a dull pain on my leg. I've always wondered how that happened.
posted by town of cats at 6:10 PM on July 15, 2012


town of cats: How can you know if you felt pain from a dream, or if you were sleeping weird and pulled a muscle and interpreted real pain as being stabbed?
posted by floam at 6:16 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "I know I'm not dreaming right now because I can't read when I'm dreaming."

I find that I can't read the words on the page, but I can "read" the book/magazine/whatever when I'm dreaming. The distinction is one of the things (mirrors and random alarm clock noises are the others) that lets me know it's a dream and sometimes catapult myself into a nice lucid dream. The words look like sanskrit that happens to never be the same twice, but they still hold the meaning I would expect.

The alarm clock thing is handy. When I was a kid I would always sleep through my alarm clocks. Then one day it dawned on me that the godawful sky noises that just wouldn't go away in my dreams were in fact my alarm clock. Since then, I only miss alarms when I've only been asleep such a short time that I'm in deep sleep at the time it goes off. Unfortunately, this skill makes it difficult to lucid dream, as I tend to wake myself up rather than go lucid.

It's actually kind of interesting to go directly from dreaming to forcing yourself awake. For me, anyway, the real world is pretty fuzzy for a few minutes while the dream seems vivid and almost real.

eye of newt: "(I also dreamed actually dying in a nuclear explosion, and woke up in a panic after dreaming several minutes of absolutely nothing--I always heard you couldn't dream death)."

I had that as a little kid (and later), sans the actually dreaming death part. The dream would just be over and there were no memories of it beyond the flash or so. I was always walking down a road, I'd see a silver mailbox on the right side of the road, around which time I'd start hearing sirens. Running off from the road, there was a gazebo of some sort. Upon getting close to it, there was the flash, then nothing. Despite not sounding like much when put into words, it was rather terrifying. This started when I was 5 or 6 and continued with decreasing frequency until my early 20s. I figure I must have seen some whacked out movie or something, because at first it was a couple of times a month. By the end it was only a couple of times a year. It's probably been 10 years since I had a repeat of that dream, though. I can still feel the sense of apprehension and terror, though.
posted by wierdo at 6:31 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


town of cats: How can you know if you felt pain from a dream, or if you were sleeping weird and pulled a muscle and interpreted real pain as being stabbed?


Exactly floam. Your subconscious will give a narrative justification for what you experience in your body while you're sleeping. It's natural tendency is to give you a logical reason for what's happening on the outside by giving you a story on the inside. Therefore feeling a sharp pain in the leg becomes being shot and wounded in the leg.

But why a gunshot? Why not a knife or a sharp stick? How does the Subconcious pick that thing. And what does it do in the daytime while reality imposes it's own laws and logic upon us.

Is it just storing up instinctual reactions and emotions so they can be released in dreams at night and neutralized, like a heat sink in computer or a filter removing toxins, or a nuclear reactor tower releasing steam to lower the pressure in the reactor core. Can dreams be harnessed like the steam pressure in a locomotive and used to run and engine? Or a brain during the daytime?

Are dreams what pure thoughts are formed from? And imagination and creativity fired by?

Maybe it more like dreams are high speed particles in a massive collader that smashes them into one another and we get to collect the Higgs Bosons, quarks, ant-matter and dark matter that's shaken loose from the place where the hem of the dress that reality wears begins to fray a little bit....
posted by Skygazer at 6:34 PM on July 15, 2012


I happen to be reading Ursula K. LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven at the moment. Poor George Orr; Destined to have his dreams become reality.

And to read of Mt. St. Helens as a symmetrical snowcone!
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the probability that you are dreaming right now?

Zero, because that sentence is the same every time I read it.


This, right here, has been the most valuable thing I've ever learned about dreaming. Several years ago I got fascinated by lucid dreaming, and did a ton of reading and experimenting with it. One of the nuggets I found in one of the books I read was, if you think you might be dreaming, look at a piece of text - any printed text, a newspaper, a book, whatever - then look away, and look back. If you're dreaming, one or more of the words will have changed. If you're awake, none of the words will have changed.

For some reason this stuck with me, and it's something that my subconscious now knows to be true. So on nights when my sleep is disturbed (storm, dog, whatever) during a dream, my mind instinctively looks for some text by which to test this. And roughly half of the time, I'm able to become lucid. Which is really cool.
posted by jbickers at 7:08 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get the point of reality checks.

If you do it enough during waking consciousness, silly as it seems, you'll also do it during dreaming consciousness. So one night when you're asleep and don't pass the read-this-then-look-away-now-read-it-again-and-see-if-it's-the-same test?

eureka! you must be dreaming! but you're aware of it! which means you can now control your dream!

so...where do you want to go?
posted by ecourbanist at 8:24 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can you know if you felt pain from a dream, or if you were sleeping weird and pulled a muscle and interpreted real pain as being stabbed?

I'm not sure I can make a distinction between those two options. Ultimately, there's no way for me to tell cause from effect since I don't know what the pain came from. It's not as though I woke up with a bleeding wound.

I guess the question is really whether my dreaming mind moves quickly enough to know a pain sharp enough to wake me up is coming and retcon a dream occurrence onto that pain. It seems like a weird coincidence that I would happen to be dreaming about a violent situation (it was an involved dream about a battle that had been going on for a long time) and I would have a random muscle spasm that hurt that very same night.
posted by town of cats at 8:36 PM on July 15, 2012


Odd. I find that I often figure out I'm dreaming, and I don't even really have any trick to it. And I know that I ought to be able to influence the dream in some way. But then nothing I try actually works. All I can do is force myself to wake up, but odds are I'll just "wake up" in a dream-bed.

That's the way almost all of my nightmares go.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 8:38 PM on July 15, 2012


I am always dreaming, but sometimes I am dreaming more deeply.
posted by Ritchie at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great moments in (un)consciousness for me:

- Oddly, I never had the following dream when I was IN college, but the first few years after I graduated I dreamed a lot that I'd signed up for a course (being still in college in my dream) and forgot to attend the lectures altogether. My diploma is hanging up in my master bath WC for this reason.

- I dreamed recently that I woke up and opened one eye and was seeing my bedroom with one eye and still viewing a dream in the eye that was closed. I was, of course, dreaming the whole thing.

- I had a few surgeries in 2008. For most of them the amnesiacs did their thing and I just went to sleep and woke up in recovery, but for the last surgery I was conscious when they wheeled me in and I remember the mask going over my face and the anesthesiologist telling me to breathe the gas. Then I remember getting tunnel vision and everything going black. That's a weird sensation.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:03 PM on July 15, 2012


Pretty much any time I think of the question about whether it's a dream or not, I correctly figure out that I'm dreaming, and I've never thought I was dreaming when I was actually awake.

Yeah, as an occasional lucid dreamer, occasional sufferer of mind-shattering nightmares, and childhood sufferer of honest to god night-terrors, I have never once had this test fail. In fact, when I was a teenager and became briefly fascinated with my intermittent lucid dreams, I found that the best way to have them more often was to start habitually asking myself: "Am I dreaming?" When I was awake, the question always seemed absurd because it was always immediately apparent to me that I was not, in fact, dreaming. But by asking myself this question frequently while awake, I found that I started asking it of myself when I was dreaming as well. And it's interesting that, due to dream logic, even when fleeing in a flying car from ambulatory houses with toothy maws for windows, it would never have occurred to me to ask myself if I was dreaming, if force of habit did cause me to consider that, the answer was readily apparent and the realization that I was dreaming would generally not cause the dream to end.

I actually had my first lucid dreaming experience in a long time last night. In the dream, I was running from the police in a tuned rally car and they were gaining. I glanced over my shoulder to estimate the distance better than I could in the rearview and noticed that my two year old daughter was strapped into her carseat in the back. Seeing her there, I suddenly pulled over to a stop at the side of the road. As the cop cars skidded to stops all around me, I asked myself: "What the hell am I doing? Is this a dream?"

And, of course, it was. Such is the power of being a father, I guess, that my suspension of disbelief is more strained by the thought of driving recklessly with my daughter in the car than it is by carnivorous rowhouses.
posted by 256 at 9:59 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the point I actually meant to make in conclusion: Due to my consistently proven ability to instantly evaluate the answer to the question, I've never been able to put much stock in "what if it's all a dream" type intellectual wanking. I do, however, still find the "what if we're all brains in vats" flavour of intellectual wanking surprisingly satisfying.
posted by 256 at 10:03 PM on July 15, 2012


Pro tip: if you dream you're peeing, especially if you seem to have been pissing for ten minutes straight...your body is trying to get you to wake up. Better to do so voluntarily than involuntarily.

My test is this: am I fat and bald? If yes, I'm awake. Sigh.
posted by maxwelton at 10:54 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


randomkeystrike: I had a few surgeries in 2008. For most of them the amnesiacs did their thing and I just went to sleep and woke up in recovery,

I would never ever let amnesiacs do surgery on me. You go in for knee surgery and come out with a whole different gender...or somesuch thing.../shudder

posted by Skygazer at 11:01 PM on July 15, 2012


The one time I can recall questioning reality, the question I asked myself wasn't "am I dreaming" but "have I had a stroke". Which is odd, since the reason I wasn't sure what I was seeing was real (a Lilo and Stitch billboard in an alien language followed immediately by a UHAUL billboard -- after alien text, UHAUL doesn't look much more like an English word) was that I was functioning on something like three hours of sleep in the past three days. Falling asleep at the wheel would have been a logical explanation, but instead I went straight to "oh shit, I've had a stroke and forgotten how to read". Weird.
posted by hades at 12:00 AM on July 16, 2012


The only lucid dream I've ever had happened during my first week in the Peace Corps. I dreamt I was on the plane flying back to the US, exclaiming to my friends: "wow, I can't believe it has been 2 years!" Then I stopped and considered for a moment, "wait, I really can't believe that. Shouldn't I remember something that happened during those years? Like... Where I lived? You'd think that would be pretty memorable. Uh, I think this is a dream." I woke up proud of my rationality, only to consider that it never occurs to my subconscious self to wonder why my house has turned into a donut shop overnight or when I became a zombie fighter.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:17 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last night, for the first time (and not as a result of this thread, because I only just started reading it now), I had a fairly run-of-the-mill surreal dream that I can't quite remember (something about a woman in London acting in some bizarre way, and I was expected somehow to figure out what to do about it)... which was followed by a dream Metatalk. Seriously. There was a dream Metatalk about my dream in my dream.

My new dream mantra? Flag It and Wake Up.
posted by taz at 4:10 AM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Dreams and I have an interesting relationship.

I have had very vivid, surreal, cinematic, multi-sensory dreams ever since I can remember. I can still recall some of my earliest dreams (the earliest one I can think of was when I was about 4-5, that I was sleeping in the back of my dad's car and it was moving on its own accord. And something about a Disney live-action TV show that had an evil trashcan that ate everyone? Though that might have been real). I've had on and off attempts at keeping dream journals over the years - usually though they're so epic and surreal that by the time I get around to writing them I've lost half of it by the sheer inability to put it into words. Never mind trying to analyse them!

I have felt realistic pain in dreams, including death. Recently I had a dream where I was falling into something resembling a never-ending portal loop (like the one in this video, though nothing to do with the video game) while reality seemed to disintegrate and flicker around me. It was painful and scary and terrifying. I woke up (for real) in fear and it really didn't help that my boyfriend was mumbling in his sleep that I "found an input error"! The "read a sentence twice" reality check never really worked for me either - though it could be a case of "this blob of sentences mean X". I do remember sentences being quite clear in dreams though.

I also very often have dreams that seem like a mundane waking-up scenario...but then something goes weird. e.g. I'm up, brushing my teeth, having breakfast, whatever - and then the wall becomes pink goo. Or the mirrors melt. Or there are people in the house that I haven't seen in ages. Whatever. I get stuck in this loop for AGES to the point that I start questioning my sanity. It's such a relief when I wake up, for real, no weirdness. Dreams-in-dreams are common for me even with the surreal ones: one time I had two dreams that were switching in and out of the other, each asserting they were "reality", the continuity maintaining itself between dreams.

Conversely, I've had real-life situations that were so unusual (usually involving an awesome-but-unlikely encounter) that they feel like dreams. When I think back on them they feel just as hazy and fuzzy as dreams do. Sometimes they feel like dreams in the moment. The only way I can tell they're not dreams is because there's someone else able to verify for me - whereas no one else knows what the hell I'm talking about when I bring my dream events up.

I wish dream machines were invented already - I have come up with so many amazing songs, stories, inventions, theories in dreams that are hard to recapture in real-world skills (music, especially!). On the flipside I might end up looking through dreams I really do not want to revisit.

Related AskMe.
posted by divabat at 5:08 AM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is an implication that dream-conscious-time is retained as part of our memory of the "past", which is almost certainly not true. The brain does a fairly good job of expunging dream memories in the hours following awakening. The process may not be perfect, but it certainly reduces "false dream memories" well below the stated 10%.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:32 AM on July 16, 2012


I just try to turn the lights on or off.
posted by daHIFI at 10:25 AM on July 16, 2012


This is all very interesting, anecdote-wise, but with many of these dream/waking qualifiers there is a deep philosophical problem. When you make statements of the sort, "I know I'm not dreaming because when I'm dreaming x," you presuppose that you already know when you are/are not dreaming, which is exactly the point the question "how do you know you are dreaming" tries to exploit, and thus statements of the sort "I know I'm not dreaming because when I'm dreaming x" actually beg the question (in the strict sense of 'beg the question').

This is to say, when you make the statement "I know I'm not dreaming because when I'm dreaming x," you haven't offered any proof that x is characteristic of a dream other than the fact that when x you are in a dream. How do you know? Because of x. And then we are nowhere, really.

Grumblebee made the concession that he was using "know" casually and that there were epistemological and existential problems with such an assertion, but it is actually those very problems which are at the heart of the interesting part of the dreaming or awake conundrum (in the loose sense of 'conundrum'), and why it is in part a philosophical problem and not just a cognitive science one. Cognitive science might try to answer questions about what the differences are between a waking and a dreaming state, or maybe even how we'd know the difference, but philosophy tries to answer how we would know that we knew, or how we'd determine what we would need in order to know. The philosophical part is trying to determine not what but what sorts of qualia might be sufficient to determine if one is dreaming or not. In other words, if we want to know whether we are dreaming or not, we can't rely on things like "I'm not dreaming because objects have clarity" or "language is fuzzy," because that presupposes we already know which is a dream and which is a reality. What we'd want to do is to figure out what kind of thing would be sufficient to differentiate between the two, and then to look for it. That we have been talking about this at least since Descartes just goes to show how fun and unanswerable a question it is. It's also why the article makes some seemingly egregious but upon further reflection not so unsubstantiated assumptions about trading moments of consciousness we believe we have in waking life for those we believe we have in dreaming life and treating them as basically equivalent entities.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:11 PM on July 16, 2012


In other words, if we want to know whether we are dreaming or not, we can't rely on things like "I'm not dreaming because objects have clarity" or "language is fuzzy," because that presupposes we already know which is a dream and which is a reality.

In relation to the linguistic and conceptual scheme the claim is made within, we already do. My problem with your defence of article is that it seems to neglect the fact that "dream" is not a general state of being deceived about reality, but rather a reference to a specific set of experiences as they stand in relation to our broader theory of knowledge. One might just as reasonably argue that it is impossible for me to know whether I am in England or not, because of the epistemological uncertainty underpinning the question. The Cartesian doubt might well be justified, but I'm still going to base my claim to being here on the fact that it appears to be constantly pissing with rain.

I don't actually think foundational epistemology is a particularly helpful discourse for exactly this reason. It tends to neglect the way in which people actually do make truth claims in favour of exploring how one might ideally make a truth claim.
posted by howfar at 6:07 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I try to not lucid dream, because my dreams... Well, most are ridiculous, but some can be so realistic that there is no level of 'reality testing' that will make it not feel real. I have all 5 senses with 100% accuracy (smell of coffee from a coffee cart, while watching sparrows jumping round on the side of a busy city street - I remember that as clearly as anywhere I have been). Yes I feel touch, pinches, and pain. Or at least I think I do.
And yes, I can read something several times, and have it be exactly the same.

Most of the time my last ditch reality test is trying to remember how I got somewhere, and not having any memory, but I have had a few dreams where I woke up at home, got dressed, and went into town etc.

But worse than the reality of my dreams, is that I have gone through periods of depression, sometimes with some disassociation. Thankfully many years ago.
What this means is that reality literally does not feel real.
I get the persistent feeling that 'this is not real' even though I am awake, and if I ask myself 'Is this is a dream?' I'm just not sure.
*shudder*

So yeah. Yay for anti-depressant, and, not so yay on the lucid dreaming.
Fun, entertaining, but bad for my awake mental health.
posted by Elysum at 6:41 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I almost always wake up before the alarm clock. Once or twice I've "woken" to the alarm going off, shufled off into the shower, at some point probably awakened without realizing I was sleepwalking, and found myself in the car ready to go to work wondering why the car clock was saying 3:00 AM. On one occasion I actually drove a couple of miles toward work before realizing my error.
posted by localroger at 7:10 PM on July 16, 2012


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