Are dreams experiences?

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In the 1970s Daniel C. Dennett, Smart Dude, provided an interesting alternative hypothesis to the one that dreams are real experiences of some "false" reality that we have when we sleep. His alternative was that dreams are in fact false memories of experiences we did not actually have while sleeping.

How crazy an idea is this? Can you demonstrate it wrong? Has there been any interesting follow up stuff on it?


Daniel C. Dennett, Smart Dude's, paper (only first page, sadly):
http://www.jstor.org/pss/2183728
 
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  • #2
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In the 1970s Daniel C. Dennett, Smart Dude, provided an interesting alternative hypothesis to the one that dreams are real experiences of some "false" reality that we have when we sleep. His alternative was that dreams are in fact false memories of experiences we did not actually have while sleeping.

How crazy an idea is this? Can you demonstrate it wrong? Has there been any interesting follow up stuff on it?


Daniel C. Dennett, Smart Dude's, paper (only first page, sadly):
http://www.jstor.org/pss/2183728
This is not a crazy idea at all....
Every organ in our body should constantly work. They have no other choice. They cannot stop working. If they are forced to stop working, they die. While kidneys produce urine, brain produces ideas. We sleep or not, brain always thinks. Dreams are such experiences. Realities may be false but dreams are real experiences.
 
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  • #3
DaveC426913
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... dreams are in fact false memories of experiences we did not actually have while sleeping.
I cannot parse this sentence.

False memories of experiences we did not have? Then what are they?
 
  • #4
disregardthat
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False memories of experiences we did not have? Then what are they?
A false memory is a memory of something that does not match what one actually experienced. His sentence is perfectly senseful.
 
  • #5
DaveC426913
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A false memory is a memory of something that does not match what actually happened. His sentence is perfectly senseful.
Except that it is of something that didn't happen, so how can it not match something that didn't happen?
 
  • #6
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False memory is a memory of some events that did not take place.
 
  • #7
DaveC426913
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False memory is a memory of some events that did not take place.
So, a false memory of 'an experience we did not have' that we did not have.

I'm not trying to be obtuse, I'm trying to figure out what value this hypothesis adds to the idea of imagination while we sleep.

If we didn't have the experiences, and when we wake we can tell the difference between a memory and a dream (so it's not like we confuse the two), then what really does it mean to say we have false memories of experiences we didn't have?
 
  • #8
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You are right but those are semantics.
Important thing here is that brain thinks in sleep.
We call them dreams.
Brain must do that.
During sleep kidneys still produce urine. But brain cannot think logical sequence of events. It functions as having dreams.
 
  • #9
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When you have a memory of a dream, the events themselves may not have happened but the dream did. The memories aren't false, they are simply memories of dreams (you remember the dream of the events, not the events themselves). It's an important distinction. The dreams are real, the events are not. You remember the dreams - those are not false memories.

This means we can differentiate between 'things in dreams' and 'things in reality'.

I really don't understand the premise that is trying to be brought across here. It just doesn't make sense.
 
  • #10
DaveC426913
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You are right but those are semantics.
Important thing here is that brain thinks in sleep.
We call them dreams.
Brain must do that.
During sleep kidneys still produce urine. But brain cannot think logical sequence of events. It functions as having dreams.
Agreed, but this is not the premise of the OP.
 
  • #11
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When you have a memory of a dream, the events themselves may not have happened but the dream did. The memories aren't false, they are simply memories of dreams (you remember the dream of the events, not the events themselves). It's an important distinction. The dreams are real, the events are not. You remember the dreams - those are not false memories.

This means we can differentiate between 'things in dreams' and 'things in reality'.

I really don't understand the premise that is trying to be brought across here. It just doesn't make sense.
Well, the idea here is to take the falseness up a level. Normally we think that when we wake up we have real memories of dreams, dreams being real experiences of false events when we sleep.

Dennet's alternative is that the memories themselves are false, and that we do not actually dream, only that when we wake up we have false memories of experiences we did not have.
 
  • #12
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Dennet's alternative is that the memories themselves are false, and that we do not actually dream, only that when we wake up we have false memories of experiences we did not have.
Now wasn't that a lot easier to say.

So where would they come from? Your brain just spontaneously creates them on waking up?

They have imaged the brain and shown when the different stages of sleep occur and what they look like. They have also shown that you only dream during a certain stage (REM sleep I believe).

Current research shows the heightened activity state during the REM phase, indicating dreams are taking place.

There is nothing to support this idea of yours (or who ever is being discussed). For it to be true, it would have to invalidate current observations.
 
  • #13
Ryan_m_b
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Well, the idea here is to take the falseness up a level. Normally we think that when we wake up we have real memories of dreams, dreams being real experiences of false events when we sleep.

Dennet's alternative is that the memories themselves are false, and that we do not actually dream, only that when we wake up we have false memories of experiences we did not have.
I suffer from prolific nightmares, it's better now but a few years ago it was intolerable. My partner would tell me that in my sleep I would moan, cry out, fidget, kick, thrash around and generally act like one would expect of someone asleep whilst having a nightmare. I fail to see how Dennet's proposal could be reconciled with this behaviour, I acted as though I was experiencing in real-time. If I had created the whole memory of having a nightmare upon the instant of waking I would have slept soundly. In addition, my nightmares frequently wake me up but how could this be so if they are instantly laid down "false" memories?
 
  • #14
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I suffer from prolific nightmares, it's better now but a few years ago it was intolerable. My partner would tell me that in my sleep I would moan, cry out, fidget, kick, thrash around and generally act like one would expect of someone asleep whilst having a nightmare. I fail to see how Dennet's proposal could be reconciled with this behaviour, I acted as though I was experiencing in real-time. If I had created the whole memory of having a nightmare upon the instant of waking I would have slept soundly. In addition, my nightmares frequently wake me up but how could this be so if they are instantly laid down "false" memories?
Very good point (somewhat gutted I missed it myself :cry:).

There are people whose bodies don't paralyze them when they sleep so they act out the dreams. As ryan said, how would his theory explain that?

Also, I sleep talk and get a bit concerned when people ask me what I was talking about and it's like they were in my dream listening to the conversation. If I wasn't dreaming, how would this occur?
 
  • #15
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Dennet's alternative is that the memories themselves are false, and that we do not actually dream, only that when we wake up we have false memories of experiences we did not have.
I haven't read Dennet, but IF he said that, I'm not missing anything. I've read John Searle, a serious philosopher of the mind who does his homework. There is ample evidence that lucid dreaming occurs during sleep.

http://tcts.fpms.ac.be/biomed/private/papers/takeushi03.pdf
 
  • #16
Pythagorean
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Now wasn't that a lot easier to say.

So where would they come from? Your brain just spontaneously creates them on waking up?

They have imaged the brain and shown when the different stages of sleep occur and what they look like. They have also shown that you only dream during a certain stage (REM sleep I believe).

Current research shows the heightened activity state during the REM phase, indicating dreams are taking place.

There is nothing to support this idea of yours (or who ever is being discussed). For it to be true, it would have to invalidate current observations.
The idea is that the plasticity events still take place during REM but we don't experience them until the thalamus "flips our consciousness on" and suddenly were connected to a different background brain than we fell asleep with.

I think Dennet is saying the only time we actually "experience" our dreams is after the rewiring has already taken place and we "wake up" to new wiring.
 
  • #17
Ryan_m_b
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The idea is that the plasticity events still take place during REM but we don't experience them until the thalamus "flips our consciousness on" and suddenly were connected to a different background brain than we fell asleep with.

I think Dennet is saying the only time we actually "experience" our dreams is after the rewiring has already taken place and we "wake up" to new wiring.
But then what is experiencing the dream? Something must be (As mentioned above; people move, talk, walk etc).
 
  • #18
Ryan_m_b
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Very good point (somewhat gutted I missed it myself :cry:).
Thankyou :biggrin:
 
  • #19
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I think Dennet is saying the only time we actually "experience" our dreams is after the rewiring has already taken place and we "wake up" to new wiring.
(bold mine)

Is this consistent with studies where subjects are awakened during REM sleep and are able to describe their dreams?

My real question is: Does Dennet do any research of his own, or does he cite any research to back his ideas?
 
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  • #20
DaveC426913
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There are myriad ways that dreaming experiences can be shown to be really occurring. Dreaming occurs at multiple levels, sometimes grazing conciousness, sometimes dreams actually interact with reality.

Dennet seriously has his hands full attempting to explain away all this evidence.
 
  • #21
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There are myriad ways that dreaming experiences can be shown to be really occurring. Dreaming occurs at multiple levels, sometimes grazing conciousness, sometimes dreams actually interact with reality.

Dennet seriously has his hands full attempting to explain away all this evidence.
What's the basis for his "hypothesis"? What science is he relying on? If he is simply promoting some personal dogma without evidence, how can he be taken seriously, even as a philosopher? This is not a metaphysical issue. It's a scientific issue.
 
  • #22
DaveC426913
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What's the basis for his "hypothesis"? What science is he relying on? If he is simply promoting some personal dogma without evidence, how can he be taken seriously, even as a philosopher? This is not a metaphysical issue. It's a scientific issue.
That was a can of worms I didn't want to have to open. If I can refute the idea without having to actually read his paper, I'm good with that. :wink:
 
  • #23
disregardthat
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When you have a memory of a dream, the events themselves may not have happened but the dream did. The memories aren't false, they are simply memories of dreams (you remember the dream of the events, not the events themselves). It's an important distinction. The dreams are real, the events are not. You remember the dreams - those are not false memories.

This means we can differentiate between 'things in dreams' and 'things in reality'.

I really don't understand the premise that is trying to be brought across here. It just doesn't make sense.
The point, as I understood it, is that it was suggested that our brain makes up memories of supposed dream experiences which one actually did not dream. EDIT: I see now that it was explained later in the thread...

@Dave, I didn't mean that dreamed experiences did not match what happened, but that it did not match what one actually experienced. It was poorly put, I agree.

--
While I understand the nightmare counter-example that has been brought up here, it doesn't necessarily contradict Dennets point (which he may or may not have evidence for). As I understand it he doesn't say that we don't experience anything during sleep, but rather that the sensations in form of coherent experiences were formed after we woke up. That is, you might experience fright during a nightmare, but only when you wake up you realize (or think) what the hell you were frightened about! Far fetched perhaps, but not dismissible right away. I consider it plausible.
 
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  • #24
chiro
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I don't want to take away from the point of this thread, but does anyone know or has hypothesized (this is probably wishful thinking), why our dreams are actually structured and make sense, but are not just "random garbage" or "noise"? I think if this issue makes progress, then it will probably explain a lot more than just why we have dreams.

I'm not a neuro-scientist, but it would be interesting if there are at least hypothesis for this question.
 
  • #25
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While I understand the nightmare counter-example that has been brought up here, it doesn't necessarily contradict Dennets point (which he may or may not have evidence for). As I understand it he doesn't say that we don't experience anything during sleep, but rather that the sensations in form of coherent experiences were formed after we woke up. That is, you might experience fright during a nightmare, but only when you wake up you realize (or think) what the hell you were frightened about! Far fetched perhaps, but not dismissible right away. I consider it plausible.
Please read back regarding my sleep talking.

I have conversations with 'whoever' in my sleep, people bring these up to me in the morning and ask me what it was about. They know everything I said.
I don't want to take away from the point of this thread, but does anyone know or has hypothesized (this is probably wishful thinking), why our dreams are actually structured and make sense, but are not just "random garbage" or "noise"? I think if this issue makes progress, then it will probably explain a lot more than just why we have dreams.

I'm not a neuro-scientist, but it would be interesting if there are at least hypothesis for this question.
My dreams rarely make sense. In fact, there is a lot of "random garbage" floating around them that just doesn't make sense at all.
 

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