Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Nature of Dreaming;

or, Maybe Ernie Isn't Crazy After All A few weeks ago in Epistemology seminar, Ernie Sosa suggested what sounded to me like an extremely counterintuitive idea about dreams. He contrasted what he called the "Orthodox Model" with the "Imagination Model." On the imagination model, when I dream that I believe that I am being chased by a tiger and feel afraid, I do not actually believe that I'm being chased by a tiger or actually afraid; instead, I'm merely imagining these mental states, much as I imagine hoping that Willow will cure Angel before Buffy has to kill him (this is only an imagined hope; if it were a real hope, it would be a hope that Joss wrote the episode differently -- and I don't hope that, since I think it's great as it is). In general, according to the imagination model, when I have X mental state inside the dream, I do not necessarily have it in real life. The orthodox model says just the opposite. (There are some surprising implications of the imagination model on Cartesian skeptical scenarios.) I used to think that the imagination model was just plain nuts, and was nothing close to being faithful to the phenomenology of dreaming. When I'm dreaming, it feels like I really am emperor of Japan -- imagining it or listening to a story about it feels completely different. But two mornings in a row now, I've had experiences that made me wary of dismissing the imagination model too quickly. I dream at night, and am doing something interesting in my dream (this morning, I was playing football, and there were two games occurring concurrently on the same field -- a men's game, and a woman's game. After deflecting a pass in my game, I helped my sister recover a fumble by throwing a key block). Suddenly, my alarm goes off, and I come out of my dream and wake up. My reaction to this is interesting -- I think to myself, "I don't want to get up yet, because I want to finish the dream. I want to know what happens." So I reset my alarm and close my eyes, and the dream starts up again, even as I realize I'm only dreaming it. And presumably, there is a smooth transition from this lucid dream to the deeper kind of dream in which I'm not aware that I'm only dreaming. If this is right, then dreams do seem quite a lot like stories, rather than experiences.

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