Monday, 28 July 2014

"Not Even Dreams"?

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."

"Life, what is it but a dream?"

"Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
"A bubble in a stream,
"A child's laugh, a phantasm, a dream."

Wanda Tamberly goes further:

"'If everything is random and causeless - if there is nothing out there, no firm reality, only a mathematical shadow show that for all we can tell keeps changing and changing and changing, with us not even dreams within it -'"
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 433.

Not even dreams? We are more than dreams. We are at least dreamers.

I think that there is a gap in our vocabulary. When someone is asleep, we say that he is unconscious and he is indeed not conscious of us or of his surroundings. However, dreams are sleeping experiences sometimes remembered when awake so we are "conscious" or "aware" of them when they happen? We experience them and I regard "to experience..." and "to be conscious of..." as synonyms.

An experience can be called "a dream" only if it is fleeting and is contrasted with something longer lasting before and after it. Thus, Shakespeare's:

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on
"And our little life is rounded with a sleep..."

- is apt because we are not conscious of anything before our births or (I believe) after our deaths yet we have evidence that the universe existed for a very long time before us and will continue to exist for a very long time after us. But to call the entire universe "a dream" would be meaningless because there would be nothing longer lasting to contrast it with.

(If I dream of meeting Hamlet, then I do not believe that the Hamlet in my dream is conscious of meeting me! - but, in the "dream" of life, the other "dreamers" are as conscious as I am.)


  1. We are aware of dreams, but not usually conscious (lucid dreams complicate the distinction). When fully conscious, we not only experience events, but we are aware of ourselves doing so. Dreams tend to be successions of images, voices, and feelings which we experience, but which happen without self-awareness.

    Best Regards,
    Nicholas Rosen

  2. Nicholas,
    Thank you for discussion. I think that there is no agreed terminology here. I regard "aware" and "conscious" as synonyms. But, of course, we can distinguish between "conscious" and "fully conscious." There is a difference between experiencing and being aware of ourselves doing so. Again, to me, experiencing images, voices and feelings and being conscious of them sound like two ways of saying the same thing but I agree that, in dreams, this happens without awareness/consciousness of self.