Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dreaming (lucidly) a Dream

On rare occasions, I disagree with something written by P.M.S. Hacker (a philosopher who frequently swims against the current or is decidedly out of fashion). Here is one such instance. First, he notes correctly that “philosophers [this invariably refers to Western philosophers, but his observation is equally apt for those of Asian provenance as well] since antiquity have been plagued by the thought that illusions, hallucinations and dreams are (or can be) indistinguishable from veridical perception,” a fact that accounts for one of the roots of skepticism. But in his brief discussion of dreams, he claims that, “When one has a lucid dream, one dreams that one is dreaming.” I doubt things are so simple and clear-cut if only because of my own dream experiences (I’ll not here attempt to discuss supporting evidence from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition). For example, when on occasion I am in a dream that is (or borders on) a nightmare, usually one in which I seem to have no way out in confronting some imminent harm or even death, I’ve on occasion been able to say something like the following to my (dreaming) “self:” “OK, this is just a dream, and you need only wake up to escape the danger or banish your fears,” whereupon I wake up, thinking to myself, “Ah, it’s nice to have been rid of that awful dream.” I tend not to engage in any further dream analysis, having put the dream behind me, thus not believing—perhaps wrongly, in an act of self-deception or state of denial—that the contents of the dream are a potential source of psychological insight into something troubling me or some aspect of my character, what have you. Is this merely another instance of “dreaming (albeit lucidly!) that one is dreaming?” Is the “self” speaking to the dreaming “self” one and the same? 

Image: Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503—1504)

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