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Alan Worlsey on Dreaming Realities

Date: 12-Jan-2013/19:01+3:00

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Note
Written accounts of lucid dreaming have existed for as long as mankind has been writing. However, it is a personal experience that is not shared. But since it doesn't happen to everyone, there has existed skepticism that people were not truly conscious in the moment, but merely "making it up" (deliberately or subconsciously) upon awakening.
It's a tricky thing to prove that you are aware while dreaming, because your body is paralyzed in order to protect you from (let us say) dreaming about running and then running for real and running off a cliff. (There is some twitching and of course sleepwalkers are an exception.) However, back in the 1970s some people who were really good at lucid dreaming trained themselves to use eye motions to signal and communicate their awareness to people monitoring them in the lab.
The findings were interesting in the sense that dream-time seems equivalent to real-time; which they found out by counting off time with their eyes, or responding to being poked. Results were reproduced in other labs and Western Science concluded that yup--it's a real thing. It sort of got shelved as a research topic after that.
Oddly enough, reading about this satisfied me after my First Lucid Dream back in '97 or '98. I figured it was a stupid-brain-trick and not worth much more consideration. But as things got more out of hand, I wanted to go back for a second look. What were the philosophical opinions of the people who had gotten so good at it? Did they really think it was pure neurology, and not a "peek outside the matrix" or "into the astral plane"?
The best at it was Alan Worsley, so I looked up his writing. Here is an essay that's a little tough to find, and the place you can find it is formatted badly and hard to read. So I've reprinted it here. I find what he is saying interesting, but I guess we just came to different conclusions about it. His remarks about the ethics of how to act in dreams are interesting though, and issues that I wrestle with as well.

Dreaming Realities (by Alan Worsley PhD)

I have been deeply curious about the nature of reality for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I discovered that dreams were not necessarily something that could be recognised as dreams only after one woke but that one could realise that one was dreaming during the dream. One could then act more appropriately in this strange alternative world.
Being lucid gives dreaming an added dimension. For me, paradoxically, lucidity makes the dream world seem more like a real place even though I know more clearly that it is a dream. In my experience, increased consciousness means having immediate access to more integrated information. This results in a richer experience whether one is in a dream world or the physical world of wakefulness. Lucidity during dreaming allows more sophisticated development of expectations that can take a dream into new areas.
If lucid dreaming and similar experiential phenomena such as out-of-body experiences and so-called 'astral projection' were made more accessible they might be credited with a reality comparable in significance to normal objective reality. Perhaps what appears to be the one and only objective world need not be unique as we commonly believe and should not dominate our concept of what a 'real' world has to be. Alternative dimensions could perhaps be developed into new stable worlds, for safe recreation, clean, private and at no cost? The current version of things, the way we exist now, is only how things have evolved so far. Our dividing of worlds into 'real' and 'not real' is biased by survival needs. With increased affluence we can expand our existential horizons.
An example of how artificial sensory worlds might be received is provided by the enthusiasm shown for computer generated virtual reality which is now being taken very seriously as a valuable tool for research, education and play. It is now clear that there are other ways to be.
But if we are going to design a more tractable reality we might first ask 'What characteristics should it have and which ones are possible?'
Both waking life and virtual worlds have real and fictional aspects. Domestic drama, theatre, films, virtual reality, hallucinations, myths, dreams, rumours, merge into each other. Stories can be made up but lack sensory impact. Real life, though vivid, is hard to control. Could lucid dreams offer the best of both? We might yet 'mould it nearer to the heart's desire'. Or would the development of lucid dreaming techniques be more likely to lead to the sort of disaster portrayed in the film 'Forbidden Planet'?
When I first began to experience lucid dreams as a child I regarded my attempts to control dreams as a natural extension of normal dream activities where, according to the situation, one chooses to do one thing or another as seems appropriate. I still tend towards this view. I do not believe there is a sharp dividing line between making choices in normal dreams, with or without lucidity, and the kind of over-control which some critics of dream guidance regard as inappropriate and characteristic of 'control freaks who live in the ego'. (Robert Moss writing in his book 'Conscious Dreaming'. 1996)
Optimum dream guidance would seem to lie between having tight control and having very little. For instance one could select the dream's general subject with a few preferences pencilled in and leave it to the dream generation processes to work something out. However since I have not yet experienced dreams guided by detailed programming I suspend judgement for the moment.
When I read 'Dreams and the means of guiding them' by Hervey de St Denys (Dr Morton Schatzman's English edition 1980) I was excited that here was the basis of an alternative kind of controlled virtual reality, undeveloped since its first publication in 1867. I have experimented with various forms of external stimulation during dreaming with mixed results. There does seem to be an effect but just how it will work out is somewhat unpredictable. Stimuli might be distorted during incorporation into the dream scene. Associations evoked, such as dream characters, might not be the ones intended such as a particular scene. A technique explored by Hervey de St Denys was to use perfume associated with certain places to evoke dreams about those places. This is a powerful technique because the sense of smell has a direct link to the brain. The chemical senses give us information that can generally be relied on. If you can smell it must be there. His experiments were simple compared to conceivable elaborations of his technique. In the future, stimuli associated with various situations, objects and people, could be arranged to occur in a sequence. Physiological changes associated with the intended psychological responses could trigger the next stimulus. One can even envisage a form of synchronised dream sharing by this means and engaging in interaction simultaneously with another dreamer remotely via the Internet.
H de St D does not seem to make it clear in his accounts of these experiments whether he was lucid during his guided dreams. However, since he was so adept at achieving the knowledge of his state of consciousness in his dreams, one might guess that he was lucid during the dreams evoked by external stimulation. One would have liked to read in his accounts more about the satisfaction he derived from these dreams. It is clear that he enjoyed himself but was it by suspending disbelief as one does when watching a film instead of thinking, 'it is just a film and therefore not worth watching', or did he simply delight in the sensations and situations knowing full well that it was all an illusion?
Although dream guidance is a promising field of study I believe there is much to be said for dreams with spontaneous content rather than to dreams tightly programmed in great detail. I find there is a genuine unpredictable quality about spontaneous dreams which provides endless surprises. To discover more about what was possible I needed to carry out some research. Anecdotal evidence such as that reported in Celia Green's book 'Lucid Dreams' in 1968 is a useful starting point but I felt the need to carry out more systematic studies of the dream world.
My first experiments began simply. One area of my own personal internal virtual reality that I explored was the 'physics' of dreams. How solid is dream 'furniture'?
I tried pushing my hand into various objects such as a tabletop. Although there might be a delay before anything happened I usually found that my hand would penetrate the table after a second or so. How would my hand appear after it had penetrated a hard object? In waking life, pushing one's hand with sufficient force to penetrate wood causes injury. Since I never felt nor anticipated any pain during these matter penetration experiments I did not expect to see any damage to my hand. Knowing I was dreaming I was confident I would come to no harm. And in fact I never experienced any pain. I was curious about what my hand looked like as it went through an object. It occurred to me that I would be able to see any damage spontaneously portrayed by the dream imagery generating processes if I pushed my hand through clear glass. I remembered to do this experiment when I had a dream in which a car windscreen was with in easy reach. I pushed the tips of my fingers onto the glass and after a delay of about a second my fingers started to go through. It was as if the glass made way for them so that at all times my hand was a perfect fit in the hole it was making in the glass. The resistance to penetration was characteristic of what engineers call a 'push' fit, neither sliding nor requiring great force but offering steady resistance or 'drag'. After my hand had penetrated the windscreen I could see it on the other side. It appeared unharmed. I then dragged my hand out and again I felt neither discomfort nor saw any damage. I was not surprised at this result. Before I did the experiment I felt neutral about the outcome so I was neither fearful nor over confidant about a 'safe' outcome.

Changing physical laws and constants

Being able to alter the consistency of matter in dreams just by imagining that it is so is only one example of altering characteristic of dreams that are constant in waking life. Gravity is another. I now find it easy to levitate or fly in dreams but it has not always been so easy. As a child I had spontaneous flying dreams but initiating flight deliberately from a standing start can be difficult. Powerful habitual assumptions come into play. Apart from the unfamiliarity of the idea that one might be able to just fly there is also the matter of what height it would be safe to ascend to. Anything over about 3 metres surely would probably feel unsafe even if one knew one was dreaming. The biggest problem was usually that of getting started. It occurred to me that the difficulty of leaving the ground to fly in dreams might occur because, as in waking life, knowing that one is standing on the ground might be continually refreshing a physiological reinforcement loop that maintains the idea that one is locked to the ground by gravity. Maybe one could break this loop by jumping in the air and thereby lose the associated imagery of pressure on one's feet. I found that this technique works even if the jump is only a matter of centimetres. This is useful to know because sometimes, when one is not sure one is dreaming, as a reality test one can dare to make a discreet little jump because it is less likely to be noticed than a leap. In a decorous social setting where such eccentricities might be frowned upon a leap into the air might generate reactions on the part of dream characters which, even though one is aware that one is dreaming, could be distracting.
I have also experimented with changing the constancy of my body image in dreams. A surprising degree of over-ride is possible. I have managed to change the length of my limbs and even to add extra limbs, tentacles, horns, flowers and flames growing from my fingers. Again, as with the matter penetration experiments, I found there is usually a slight pause, almost as if the imagery generator was saying, 'are you sure?' before the effect begins.
I have noticed a similar delay between operating a dream light switch and the light coming on. The reason other dream observers find that dream lights don't work, I have suggested (in 'Conscious Brain, Sleeping Body' edited by S LaBerge and Jayne Gackenbach, Plenum 1988), is that the imagery is slow to respond, not that dream 'lights' don't work. There is a delay before the expected effect begins. Waking world electric lights usually come on instantly. If this does not happen we are quick to assume there is a fault. In dreams this same habitual assumption presumably changes our expectations which then affect the generation of visual imagery. From expecting the light to come on we naturally think, during the delay, that it must be broken and so, since dream imagery is very much influenced by expectations, the brighter imagery is no longer expected and the 'light' never comes on.
If, instead of taking this pessimistic view so precipitately and rigidly adhering to the normal sequence of waking expectations, the dreamer is prepared to wait a moment then the intended effect might appear. I have found that if I regard dream lights as naturally slow to change, like the dawn, they will often come on, even from complete darkness (or, more correctly, from complete absence of visual imagery), and grow steadily brighter over a few seconds.
Similarly other dream management difficulties might be avoided by adopting a more appropriate way of thinking about the way things work in dreams. If dream light switches are imagined to be dimmer switches or oil lamps with wicks that can be turned up the expected effect will be gradual. There would then be less incompatibility in dreams between the limits of dream imagery generation and habitual responses to the most common technologies of waking life. Progress in acquiring useful dream techniques might then be smoother.
Moving on from developing basic techniques to using them for some purpose, I explored how to travel to somewhere specific to find what I wanted. I found that trying to travel by means normal in the waking world, such as by car, tended to be difficult. It might be difficult to find a usable car quickly and hitchhiking was unreliable. Even flying had its problems. I suspect that, from above, as a result of lacking the stability of the familiar view, places would change. It was easy to get lost.
I also tried a technique directly imported from computer controlled virtual reality called 'Point and Go'. You point your finger, real or virtual, in the direction you want to go, and then confidently say, 'Go!' This worked well, even when I pointed upwards.
Then I discovered techniques for direct travel avoiding intervening places. This was simple. I would close my eyes and imagine where I wanted to be and, if I had imagined clearly, I would be there.
Many times the purpose of travel was to go to somewhere where I expected to find a friend, usually female. Or, having found her, to take her somewhere quiet away from distractions. Even in lucid dreams where one could tell oneself it didn't matter, the presence of others on these occasions did sometimes spoil my concentration.
On many of these occasions I was not very lucid and did not realise that I was, in a sense, wasting my time. Romantic encounters often excited me so that I woke and thus lost the dream. Any practice in making decisions and taking action while knowing one is dreaming is valuable but when I was properly lucid I usually remembered I would be better employed doing an experiment in dream psychology. But there were other problems.
I began to consider the whole question of the status and value of these experiences in which I related to a dream character. What was I doing? What sort of validity did these creatures have? What respect should I show them? When they arrived spontaneously without my conscious invitation, I was still presumably creating them somewhere in my mind. A misty daydream is one thing but interacting with a multi-sensory 'replicant' in the virtual world of dreaming could be compared to consorting with a robot sex-doll. With vision there is some degree of detachment. In my experience dreams with tactile content seem ultra real. This is perhaps because the sense of touch is so rarely simulated in waking experience. Sometimes, in 'dark' dreams there are haptic body sensations only. Consequently there is a sense of immediate close contact with one's material environment which is less evident dreams where the scene is viewed from a distance. But is there some important difference between a convincing physical replica and one that is purely virtual? Was my simple enthusiasm for mere phantoms perhaps rather naÔve? In the waking world, at one extreme, blow-up dolls are understandably regarded as perhaps rather a sad joke but suppose their realism was very good, indistinguishable from the real thing, complete with intriguing behavioural nuances. (As portrayed, for instance, on the holodeck in 'Star Trek'.) Does accurate animated portrayal justify their role?

Aspects of Authenticity: Provenance

In Tarkovsky's film, 'Solaris'), the 'guests', as the android replicants were called, were portrayed as being totally realistic. But they did not have provenance. There was no conventional explanation of where they came from. The guest simulating the psychologist's intelligent girlfriend, Hari, the original of whom, back on Earth, had committed suicide, realised she was not who she first thought she was. Despite being identical to the real Hari there was no satisfactory explanation of her presence on the space station. She realises she must be a replica. A harrowing scene follows. In despair she tries to kill herself with liquid oxygen. But these guests, like dream bodies, recover miraculously from any damage. She thaws out and, resurrected, once again realises that she does not have the authenticity which she realises might be required in order for her lover to accept her as the real person. She wants to be the real Hari. As she is coming round she says, 'Is it me?' and then, anguished, 'It's not me!' The psychologist nevertheless declares his love for her saying that he cares for her more than all the scientific truths in the universe. A more cynical member of the crew advised that he should not turn a scientific experiment into a bedroom story.
I reflected upon the events portrayed in 'Solaris'. Was a miraculous simulation, whether in a dream world or some other virtual reality, not so good after all? How would I relate to a copy of a loved one the original of whom was dead? Would I welcome it or feel that nothing, even a perfect copy, would ever replace the one who had died? Is there something improper, indelicate, or disrespectful about resurrecting the dead in the form ofreplicas? Is it deplorably insensitive to watch a video of a dead person, or even of someone who had merely changed their attitude from how they were when the video was made and who would prefer one not to watch it anymore.
If the necessary technology existed it might seem acceptable to arrange to enjoy the company of a late friend on a sunny day, sit in the garden together, drink a glass of wine, and listen to his funny stories. But it does seem a bit high-handed to do this, however good naturedly, on a whim, imagining perhaps that he would enjoy being alive again for a few hours until one decided it was time to do something else, press 'cancel' and have him walk back, like an obedient slave, into the de-materialisation booth. In relation to dreams these strange concerns can be dismissed if one is persuaded that lucid dreaming is 'just a bit of fun', a phrase sometimes used to gloss over questionable behaviour. But one might still ask, 'what is the status of dream characters called up for recreational purposes, conversation, a game of tennis, or as a dancing partner?' Is it acceptable to regard them rather as if they were dolls, which could be turned off and put back in the box when one tired of them? Is this the way to cultivate an appropriate sense of reality? In the interest of good mental hygiene should dreamers maintain the good manners that, out of consideration for others, they would apply when awake? If they did not this casual presumption might become a habit that could spread to waking life.
Technology has not developed so far that we are obliged to deal with these questions except hypothetically. So far, the scenario is fantasy but closer approximations are being made. Virtual reality technology, computer animation, data suits, are already coming together so that it will soon be possible, for example, to interact with a realistic visual representation one's favourite person, real or fictional, in a virtual reality environment and have them behave as one would wish.
Meanwhile what are we doing in dreams? Does the knowledge that dreams can be subject to human will alter the degree to which they are perceived as real? This question becomes acute when it relates to dream characters. Should we treat them as human? Even if they are not human it might be appropriate to treat them as if they are so that the purposes of dreaming are served. If we do not play the game, fulfil our roles and credit the simulated others with having their own authentic role then we should not be surprised if the reality of the dream collapses and the dream becomes ineffective. I believe that the virtual characters in dreams have no minds of their own. There is no real person to feel affronted if his or her 'existence', such as it is, is, for instance, 'terminated' by the dreamer. But, if the dream is lucid and the dreamer deliberately evokes characters with whom he can do whatever he wishes, might it tend to make him arrogant and insensitive, revelling in his own power? How consistently should we practise considering the feelings of others? Maybe, to help preserve our own moral integrity, we should still be considerate, even when the 'people' to whom we are relating are not real.

How do these issues relate to the sensation of reality in dreaming?

In general when we encounter animated images they might belong to intelligent entities or just be dumb representations. Where do dream characters fit into this multi-dimensional space? In my experience they can seem rather dumb but since I am creating them I can hardly blame them. Yet in the aid of realism perhaps it is legitimate to be solicitous or irritated if they don't respond. Should they ever be credited with intelligence as if they were independent autonomous entities? To serve the purposes of dreams, whatever they might be, it might be necessary for us to treat what might be mere dumb images as living people. When rehearsing for a play or an interview that is exactly what we might do. But when we are awake we know what we are doing. Doing it without thinking in dreams might give dream characters more credibility than is appropriate.
My impression of how dreamers treat dream characters is that they usually take them seriously. This might be part of the general credulousness in dreams but it might also be the prudent general approach.
In comparison with dream characters consider the case of an intelligent robot. If they are used simply as instructable domestic assistants rather than an entity with which or with whom one might have a relationship there is not so much of a problem. But if they are good enough to act as a substitute for oneself, as in Ray Bradbury's science fiction story, where the man leaves his wife with a robot copy of himself and goes off to start a new life somewhere else, what then? In the story the wife does the same thing and the two robots are left together and nobody realises what has happened. But even if the provenance of simulated characters is apparently in order there is yet another problem.
Characters in the virtual world of lucid dreaming or in electronic virtual reality do not deliver the solid authenticity that comes with physical presence. Wealthy hunters of big game would not go to a virtual reality centre to pursue their cruel sport however high the resolution of the images. They go on safari, even if the convenient presence of game is rigged. And I can't see English foxhunters accepting any kind of simulation as a replacement for the real thing. Galloping across the fields on a bright frosty morning wouldn't be the same if you knew you weren't really doing it. To me there is something disconcertingly eerie about feeling a body that you know is not there even if one can temporarily forget its virtual quality. But there are examples that suggest that, even without a real body, simulations can be very good. In his book 'The Story of Ruth' Dr Morton Schatzman describes how his patient, 'Ruth', experienced involuntary animated apparitions of her father in convincing multi-sensory detail though she knew he was thousands of miles away.
Under Dr Schatzman's guidance Ruth learned to control her talent for creating apparitions. She learned how to create them voluntarily. When her husband was away she was able to have satisfying interactions with an apparition of him. One might ask whether interactions of this degree of sensory fidelity would raise issues of matrimonial fidelity. If she had evoked an apparition of a lover how would this be different from relating to some other form of animate entity whether it was physical or virtual?
My point in giving these examples in relation to authenticity and credibility of reality in dreams is this. In dreams I have experienced many such occasions in which I found I could do things such as pass through walls without resistance or carve pieces from piano legs as if they were made of butter. I wonder if this unreality changed my general appreciation of the dream world so that I could no longer experience it as totally real. If dangerous situations can be escaped easily then they no longer have the same impact. And if the dream was of the type which some dream authorities would regard as performing an important psychic function then my interference might disable such a function.
It seems there might be a trade off between credibility, realism, and authenticity, on one side, and understanding the medium and being able to guide not just one's own actions but those of others and of the scene as it happens, on the other. The more one understands how to guide the imagery the less dominantly autonomous it feels and therefore the greater sense one has that it is 'not real' but is under one's own control. Compare the futility of self-tickling. Tickling is usually more effective if someone else does it.
In lucid dreams the knowledge that it is a dream immediately reduces anxiety if, for instance, one was dreaming of falling or being attacked by a lion. On the other hand I am not sure I would choose not to know it was a dream in order to get the full effect because I'm not sure 'I' would get the full effect. If I am not fully there it might be more like trying to appreciate something while drugged. Being fully alert and knowing one's true situation are two separate things. One can be intelligent and ignorant simultaneously. And there seems something strange, unhealthy even, about wishing to increase one's credulity. It can help with the appreciation of films and plays but one might ask 'who is watching if the viewer is lost in fantasy?' Does being made to believe a film is really happening make a person into more of a zombie, a compliant consumer? If one is not lucid one's dream management options can soon be lost and one may lapse into befuddled incompetence. Whether the realism is good or bad the question arises, 'what value should we put upon these experiences?' It seems fair enough to have lucid dreams for recreational purposes and in order to investigate the working of the brain and mind. But should we regard dreams as 'valid' in the same sense that many people regard waking life as 'where it's at', 'what it's all about'. Art and music and other far more recherché activities are regarded as valuable in waking life so why not dreams? Perhaps the answer is that it is difficult to share dreams. But then it can be difficult to share appreciation of art or science.
My current answer to reservations concerning respect for dream characters is that dreams can be regarded as a form of play in which, provided we respect dream characters after calling them up, there is no harm to us in treating them in a manner which suits our convenience. We might do well to adopt the same approach to life in general and treat all entities with respect for the sake of our own spiritual health.
When I was a child I thought I knew a few things, Santa Claus, God, Heaven, and that it made sense that I could do things today which might yield benefit or penalty, tomorrow. People I trusted told me specifically about Santa Claus. Details about God and Heaven followed. I was taught deferred gratification and 'Be sure your sins will find you out'. Gradually I began to question these things and by the age of five years had recognised the impossible logistic capabilities of Santa Claus. By my early teens I developed doubts about God and Heaven. But now I have doubts about other concerns, which, though harder to grasp, could be more serious. I doubt that there is a tomorrow.
I was in my twenties before I began to articulate doubts about the belief system in which I had been trained which stated that I would be essentially the same person year after year. As I grew up, the fundamental precept that it makes sense for the current version of oneself to prepare for the distant future was never stated explicitly. It was continually and subtly implied by many daily interactions involving notions of responsibility, reward and punishment, plans, and, most important, the ultimate reward - going to Heaven. The assumption I was led to make was, I now realise, that although one develops, changes and matures, the self, one's supposedly unique and enduring identity, could be relied upon to persist from childhood right through to achieving eternal life in Heaven. It was not difficult to make this assumption because 'I', whose status I now question, remembered and recognised where I was each day when I woke. 'I' remembered my body, the same one every day. I identified with the concerns 'I' had had the day before. Biology and culture worked together to assure me, had I ever thought to question it, that this way of thinking all made sense. But because it was not specifically stated I did not notice that I was absorbing this idea. No claims had been made and so there was nothing to argue with. The idea, that the same me would still be around tomorrow to be rewarded for some thing I did today or punished for something I did yesterday, became part of me. I feel now as if a clever trick has been perpetrated where for instance, in connection with punishment, the usual rules of cause and effect have been reversed.
In physics, cause is normally regarded as preceding effect. But in law, when responsibility for some act is being determined, the person who allegedly committed the act in the past, and who is surely a product, an effect, of the whole situation in which the act occurred, is, strangely I now feel, regarded as part of the cause of the effect. It seems even stranger that I never noticed for so long that this was how responsibility was allocated. I presume I must have absorbed the idea of continuity of identity so deeply that, despite being capable of clear thinking, the illogic of this convention about the attribution of responsibility had to be 'rationalised' in the interest of minimising cognitive dissonance.
Receiving rewards for the efforts of an earlier me was not such a problem. There was less reason to object. Rewards were welcome whether the current me deserved them or not.
It seems to me now that each day we wake as new distinct versions of the same person we were the day before. Like a candle being re-lit the flame is the same but the discontinuity means it is distinct in provenance from the previous flame.
Intellectually I can accept that the idea that we will survive falling asleep and still be here tomorrow is a subtle illusion. Emotionally I find it hard to believe. My early training still has force. I am not suggesting that there will be no tomorrow at all for any one but that in an important sense there is no tomorrow for the conscious individuals we are at this moment. This might be obvious to the philosophically sophisticated or to those with an acute intuition about how things are. The chanson 'In St Germain des Pres' has the line 'It won't be me and it won't be you'. I take this to mean that people change and what was once a beautiful relationship can end irrevocably. But perhaps that is more normal than we think. If we are in effect new people every day then perhaps we should not cling to our earlier selves but adopt the attitude expressed by 'The Incredible String Band' in 1970 in the song 'This Moment'. They first sing, 'Each moment is different from any before it, it's now, and if I don't kiss you, that kiss is untasted and I'll never get it back.' Then, 'But why should I want to? I'll be in the next moment.' It sounds like Christ's saying, 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof'.
My reason for introducing the topic of continuity of identity here is that the issues it entails are so fundamental that they have implications for everything we do including dreaming.
It is normal to believe that one has an identity that continues through sleep. The evidence, put simply, seems to be that when you wake, there you are, apparently just the same person you were before. When others are woken, there they are, asking 'what time is it?' and 'what do you want?' as if they had been there all the time. There is usually no obvious adverse practical consequence to believing this. In fact it is socially useful giving coherence to what might otherwise be a series of disconnected selves none of whom are obliged to owe anything to the others. But the supposed evidence for it is similar to that often assumed to be sufficient for believing one has a continuous self when one is awake: when you look you are always there.
Similarly flawed reasoning is often applied to dreams. An understandable but naïve answer to the question of whether dream scenes extend behind the dreamer, where she cannot see it is that, 'she can look'. The question apparently involves a testable and thus, so far, scientific hypothesis. It is understandable to assume that asking about what is out of sight in dreams makes as much sense as asking the same question about the waking world. Surely all you have to do is look behind and you will see whatever is there. But there is a problem. In dreams, unlike waking life, it is the looking that generates the scene.
But if it is the 'looking' that creates the new dream scene rather than revealing a scene which is already there then the question has to be re-examined. The reality of dreams and the reality of the continuity of personal identity both seem to have a transient quality. Like the sound of the tree falling in forest these things only exist if someone perceives them.
If the dreamer's expectation is that there is a 'behind' which already exists then that thought acts as a means to trigger generation of the expected imagery when the dreamer turns round to look. Depending on what she expects there are many possibilities as to what she might find when she turns round. There is no single thing and so it is not accurate to say that the rear view already exists in dreams in any normal sense except as a range of possible scenes of varying degrees of ease of evocation. My concern with continuity of identity, which originally derived partly from my experience of lucid dreaming, expanded to include not just 'how should we treat dream characters?' but 'how should we treat other beings in waking life including our future selves?' I had previously accepted that it is in the interest of our current selves that we prepare for the future. Now I tend towards believing that we should be considerate to our future selves because they too will be human beings, though perhaps no more special than any one else.
Note Further discussion of issues relating to continuity of human identity can be found in 'Reasons and Persons' by Derek Parfit, published by Oxford University Press.
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The accounts written here are as true as I can manage. While the words are my own, they are not independent creative works of fiction —in any intentional way. Thus I do not consider the material to be protected by anything, other than that you'd have to be crazy to want to try and use it for genuine purposes (much less disingenuous ones!) But who's to say?