You Are Dreaming Now?

By Robert Bernstein   |   July 12, 2022

How do you know you are not dreaming right now? “I had to pinch myself to be sure I was not dreaming” is an expression. But it is mistaken. It is perfectly possible to pinch yourself in a dream and think you are awake. Would you believe that in fact there is no foolproof test to know you aren’t dreaming right now?

As I have written before, I really only have two interests: What is the nature of reality? And what is consciousness?

In my professional life I studied physics and made a career of it. But I have also studied dreams. I did intensive workshops with Lucid Dreaming pioneer Stephen LaBerge in off-grid retreats in 2011 and 2019.

A Lucid Dream is a dream where you become aware that you are in a dream. But in fact, you are in a dream right now as you read this. It is just that your dream right now is presumably related to an outside world.

Great philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz have noted that we live in a kind of windowless room or theater of the mind. In that “Cartesian Theater” we have a wide range of experiences involving all of our senses. But the “me show” that we experience is all made of dream stuff.

Did you ever think about the fact that your most dramatic experiences in life all take place in your consciousness and not “out in the world”? Recall your most memorable experiences. Standing on the Grand Canyon rim. Mind blowing sex. Every one of those experiences is synthesized in your mind.

A “naive realist” believes that when they look out at the world, they are seeing the actual world. But this makes no sense. Your experience of the world is filled with color, pains, and tingles. But those things don’t exist in the world.

Evolutionary biologists explain that the feelings and colors that we create in our minds have a connection to what is happening in the world. If there were no such connection, we would be suffering a kind of insanity and we would not survive long enough to reproduce.

Our “waking dreams” have been likened to the desktop icons on a computer by psychologist Donald Hoffman and others. The “reality” of the computer consists of voltage changes in microscopic transistors. Yet we sit at a computer and manipulate symbols that in turn control those voltages. In a way that allows us to write an article or create a work of art or a piece of music.

The same thing happens when we go out in the world. We see icons that presumably represent things that we might eat, that might eat us or that might mate with us. We manipulate icons when we drive a car or do sports ranging from basketball to paragliding.

Our survival depends on us believing in the “reality” of these icons. Yet it may also be of value to know that our experience is always of the icons and not of the presumed world out there. Have you ever thought about this? Do you disagree? Are you a naive realist?

My dream work has compiled over 8,000 dream experiences.

Some are so detailed and realistic that it is a shock to wake up and realize “that was a dream.” I have collected an array of “dream signs” that indicate a likely dream. In waking life, I try to notice things out of the ordinary as possible dream signs. It can be as simple as trying to write a note on paper and not having enough room for my note.

Sometimes I do “reality tests” in my dreams and they pass the test of reality!

Of course, there are sure signs that I am in a “real” dream: Being able to fly. Or seeing a dead friend or relative. You can’t prove you are awake now, but if those things happen you can be sure you are in a dream!

According to Advaita philosophy, what we call “reality” is just one big dream of One Dreamer. But even if you are a materialist who believes in hard physical reality, perhaps you should be aware that you are still in a dream world right now?

You cannot escape living in a dream world. But you can see it for what it is. Some meditators call this “waking up.” I prefer the term “becoming lucid.” That is the definition of “enlightenment.”  


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