Are dreams experiences?

  1. 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):
  2. jcsd
  3. 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.
  4. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,244
    Gold Member

    I cannot parse this sentence.

    False memories of experiences we did not have? Then what are they?
  5. disregardthat

    disregardthat 1,815
    Science Advisor

    A false memory is a memory of something that does not match what one actually experienced. His sentence is perfectly senseful.
  6. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,244
    Gold Member

    Except that it is of something that didn't happen, so how can it not match something that didn't happen?
  7. False memory is a memory of some events that did not take place.
  8. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,244
    Gold Member

    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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,244
    Gold Member

    Agreed, but this is not the premise of the OP.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    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?
  15. 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?
  16. 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.
  17. Pythagorean

    Pythagorean 4,609
    Gold Member

    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.
  18. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    But then what is experiencing the dream? Something must be (As mentioned above; people move, talk, walk etc).
  19. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Thankyou :biggrin:
  20. (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?
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011
  21. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,244
    Gold Member

    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.
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