It’s boring listening to other people’s dreams. They’re bizarre and plainly unreal. I could bore you with tales of disappearing down toilets, pushing back an invasion of pizza boxes through a window, squashing a mouse in my wellington boot and looking after the Pope’s dogs.
As far as I know the Pope doesn’t have dogs so my dream was an illusion, a chaotic reassembling of images my rational mind ordered to make sense of what was, in essence, nonsensical.
And that might be all there is to a dream. Yet I can never forget feeling the tickle of a mouse’s fur and its tiny bones break under the force of my falling foot. The experience was immediate, horrifying and I was mortified. I still am. To say the mouse never existed has no impact on my memory of the experience itself.
As far as I am concerned, I have squashed a mouse under foot and I can tell you what it is like. I have had a direct personal experience that no one can take from me. On the level of immediate sensory experience, there is little difference between the waking and dreaming state. To call one ‘real’ and the other an illusion is to ignore the immediacy of the experience itself.
So when we talk about the ‘real’ we need to be a little more cognizant of what we are saying. If all experience is, on one level, a brain state then dream-experiences and waking-experiences have the same origins, and I can’t say one is more ‘real’ than the other.
Yet we know there is a difference. The very fact we have a word for ‘dream’ highlights this fact. They are different states of consciousness and we recognise that one has more legitimacy than the other. Our waking life, we argue, connects us to a reality existing independently of our minds and this gives it more validity, more value.
Or does it.
I have sympathy with idealism as a philosophical position. It argues that the only truly knowable states are conscious states (mental entities, not physical things). Certain Hindu and Buddhist philosophers are also idealist, recognising dreams as ‘real’ experiences, never dismissing them as illusions or symbols for psychoanalysis.
Consciousness is subjective, a first-person awareness and experience. If I underwent the direct experience of squashing a mouse underfoot, then no one can take that experience from me. The fact that it was not ‘real’ in so far as the mouse was a creation of my mind is neither here nor there – for me, any way. If objects only exist as experiences, then all reality is mind-dependent, and perhaps the Hindus are right in arguing that we create the dream-state just as the divine being creates our waking-state.
Actually, I have no idea!