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The practice of dream interpretation was famously attacked by Aristotle in On Prophecy in Sleep. He denied that dreams are of divine origin, but allowed that occasionally, small affections of the sensory organs as might stem from distant events that cannot be perceived in waking are perceptible in the quiet of sleep. He also believed such dreams were mostly likely to occur in dullards whose minds resemble an empty desert — an assessment that was not apt to encourage interest in dreams Kroker A similarly negative view was held by early modern philosophers who believed dreams were often the source of superstitious beliefs Hobbes ; Kant ; Schopenhauer In Freudian dream theory, dream interpretation once more assumed a prominent role as the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious.
This was associated with claims about the psychic sources of dreaming. Freud also rejected the influence of external or bodily sources, as championed by contemporary proponents of somatic-stimulus theory. In the neuroscience of dreaming, Hobson famously argued that dreams are the product of the random, brain-stem driven activation of the brain during sleep Hobson and at best enable personal insights in the same way as a Rorschach test Hobson et al.
In the game, players follow simple rules to jointly produce narratives that can seem symbolic and meaningful, even though no intelligent and deliberate process of narration was involved. Whether and under which conditions, and following which methods, dream interpretation can lead to personally significant insights is an empirical question that is only beginning to be investigated systematically see Edwards et al.
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Finally, throughout history, views on the epistemic status of dreams and the type of knowledge to be gained from dream interpretation e. Different theories on the functions of dreaming have been proposed and the debate is ongoing. An important distinction is between the functions of sleep stages and the functions of dreaming. Well-documented functions of REM sleep include thermoregulation and the development of cortical structures in birds and mammals, as well as neurotransmitter repletion, the reconstruction and maintenance of little-used brain circuits, the structural development of the brain in early developmental phases, as well as the preparation of a repertoire of reflexive or instinctive behaviors Hobson Yet none of these functions are obviously linked to dreaming.
An exception is protoconsciousness theory, in which REM sleep plays an important role in foetal development by providing a virtual world model even before the emergence of full-blown consciousness Hobson Numerous studies have investigated the contribution of sleep to memory consolidation, with different sleep stages promoting different types of memories Diekelmann et al. Dreams rarely involve episodic replay of waking memories Fosse et al.
The incorporation of memory sources seems to follow a specific temporal pattern in which recent memories are integrated with older but semantically related memories Blagrove et al. Nielsen presents a model of how external and bodily stimuli on one hand and short- and long-term memories on the other hand form seemingly novel, complex, and dreamlike images at sleep onset; he proposes these microdreams shed light on the formation and sources of more complex dreams.
Prominent theories on the function of dreaming focus on bad dreams and nightmares. It has long been thought that dreaming contributes to emotional processing and that this is particularly obvious in the dreams of nightmare sufferers or in dreams following traumatic experiences e. A more recent proposal is social simulation theory, in which social imagery in dreams supports social cognition, bonds, and social skills. Revonsuo et al.
An evolutionary perspective can also be fruitfully applied to specific aspects of dream phenomenology. According to the vigilance hypothesis , natural selection disfavored the occurrence of those types of sensations during sleep that would compromise vigilance Symons Dream sounds, but also smells or pains might distract attention from the potentially dangerous surroundings of the sleeping subject, and the vigilance hypothesis predicts that they only rarely occur in dreams without causing awakening. By contrast, because most mammals sleep with their eyes closed and in an immobile position, vivid visual and movement hallucinations during sleep would not comprise vigilance and thus can occur in dreams without endangering the sleeping subject.
Focusing on the stuff dreams are not made of might then be at least as important for understanding the function of dreaming as developing a positive account. Finally, even if dreaming in general and specific types of dream content in particular were found to be strongly associated with specific cognitive functions, it would still be possible that dreams are mere epiphenomena of brain activity during sleep Flanagan , It is also possible that the function of dreams is not knowable Springett A particular problem for any theory on the function of dreaming is to explain why a majority of dreams are forgotten and how dreams can fulfill their putative function independently of recall.
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Another problem is that dreaming can be lost selectively and independently of other cognitive deficits Solms , Some of the problems that arise for theories on the functions of dreaming can be avoided if we do not assume that dreaming has a specific function, separate from the function s of conscious wakeful states. This depends on the broader taxonomy of dreaming in relation to wakeful states. Nor should we expect dreams to have a single function; the functions of dreaming might be as varied and complex as those of consciousness, and given the complexity of the target phenomenon, the failure to pin down a single function should not be surprising Windt a.
Questions about dreaming in different areas of philosophy such as epistemology, ontology, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, and ethics are closely intertwined.
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Scientific evidence from sleep and dream research can meaningfully inform the philosophical discussion and has often done so in the past. The discussion of dreaming has also often functioned as a lens on broader questions about knowledge, morality, consciousness, and self. Long a marginalized area, the philosophy of dreaming and of sleep is central to important philosophical questions and increasingly plays an important role in interdisciplinary consciousness research, for example in the search for the neural correlates of conscious states, in conscious state taxonomies, and in research on the minimal conditions for phenomenal selfhood and conscious experience.
I want to thank Regina Fabry and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and constructive criticism on an earlier version of this manuscript. And as always, I am greatly indebted to Stefan Pitz for his support. Dreams and epistemology 1. The ontology of dreams 2. Dreaming and theories of consciousness 3. Dreaming and the self 5. Immorality and moral responsibility in dreams 6. The meaning of dreams and the functions of dreaming 6. Cartesian-style skeptical arguments have the following form quoted from Klein : If I know that p , then there are no genuine grounds for doubting that p.
U is a genuine ground for doubting that p. Therefore, I do not know that p. If we apply this to the case of dreaming, we get: If I know that I am sitting dressed by the fire, then there are no genuine grounds for doubting that I am really sitting dressed by the fire. If I were now dreaming, this would be a genuine ground for doubting that I am sitting dressed by the fire: in dreams, I have often had the realistic experience of sitting dressed by the fire when I was actually lying undressed in bed! Therefore, I do not know that I am now sitting dressed by the fire.
For example, in the Theaetetus e , Plato has Socrates discuss a defect in perception that is common to dreams and diseases, including insanity, and everything else that is said to cause illusions of sight and hearing and the other senses. This leads to the conclusion that knowledge cannot be defined through perception. He then introduces the coherence test: But when I perceive objects with regard to which I can distinctly determine both the place whence they come, and that in which they are, and the time at which they appear to me, and when, without interruption, I can connect the perception I have of them with the whole of the other parts of my life, I am perfectly sure that what I thus perceive occurs while I am awake and not during sleep.
Malcolm Malcolm argued that retrospective dream reports are the sole criterion for determining whether a dream occurred and there is no independent way of verifying dream reports. In particular, he denied dream reports imply the occurrence of experiences such as thoughts, feelings, or judgements in sleep: If a man had certain thoughts and feelings in a dream it no more follows that he had those thoughts and feelings while asleep, than it follows from his having climbed a mountain in a dream that he climbed a mountain while asleep.
Nagel Whether dream thoughts, feelings or beliefs should count as real instances of their kind now becomes an open question, and in any case there is no conceptual contradiction involved in saying one has experiences while asleep and dreaming.
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Similarly, Russell defended sense-data theory by noting that in dreams, I have all the experiences that I seem to have; it is only things outside my mind that are not as I believe them to be while I am dreaming. Russell — Elsewhere, he argued dreams and waking life must be treated with equal respect; it is only by some reality not merely sensible that dreams can be condemned. Wundt This claim is likely too strong.
Or maybe it is just because we all know that dreams are throughout un like waking experiences that we can safely use ordinary expressions in the narration of them. Austin 42 Some authors classify dreams as imaginings while acknowledging they feel like perceiving. As Lewis points out, a person might in fact believe or realize in the course of a dream that he was dreaming, and even if we said that, in such case, he only dreamt that he was dreaming, this still leaves it possible for someone who is asleep to entertain at the time the thought that he is asleep. Lewis Mental states other than believing such as entertaining, thinking, or minimally appraisive instances of taking for granted might be sufficient for deception Reed Existing proposals differ on the phenomenology of dreaming: referring to dream bizarreness, Churchland describes dream experience as robustly different from waking, whereas Revonsuo argues dreaming is similar to waking and the purest form of experience: the dreaming brain brings out the phenomenal level of organization in a clear and distinct form.
Clark argues that on such a model, systems that know how to perceive an object as a cat are thus systems that, ipso facto , are able to use a top-down cascade to bring about the kinds of activity pattern that would be characteristic of the presence of a cat. Clark a: Predictive processing accounts have also been used to explain specific features of dreaming. Dreaming and the self We almost always have a self in dreams, though this self can sometimes be a slightly different e. Immorality and moral responsibility in dreams How the phenomenology of dreaming compares to waking and what to say about how the dream self relates to the waking self bears on questions about the moral status of dreams.
Conclusions Questions about dreaming in different areas of philosophy such as epistemology, ontology, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, and ethics are closely intertwined. Bibliography Aleman, A. Andrillon, T. Windt, T. Silk, S. Drummond, M. Bellgrove, and N. Bootzin, J. Kihlstrom, and D. Schacter eds. Parva Naturalia. Hett ed. Artemidorus, The Interpretation of Dreams , R. White ed. Aserinsky, E. Augustine, Against the Academics , J. Chadwick ed. Austin, J. Warnock ed. Ayer, A.
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