How do we know we’re real?

Facts cannot be proven not to be illusions.

Illusions cannot be proven not to be real.

Actually, nothing can be proven nor disproven to be anything other than what it appears to be, but we have no way of knowing whether what appears before us is real or imagined. Anyway, is there a difference between real and imagined experience? Neuroscience says no.

We cannot even prove we exist. Think about that – how would any of us prove, inconclusively, to ourself or someone else that we actually exist and are not a figment of our imagination or someone else’s? Can we be absolutely certain that we have our own separate, independent, existence? After all, biologically we are made of DNA replicas, and not one thought in our mind has not been acquired from the intellectual environment we have inhabited.

There is a school of thought that says ‘God’ is everything (I’m using the word ‘God’ merely as a descriptive label) – not just everywhere as if he/she/it had infused reality like tea infuses water, but actually IS everything. Suppose nothing exists in the way we believe it does? Suppose we are actually thoughts in the mind of ‘God’, but our perspective is so limited that we can’t see the big picture?

If you were a cell in your own body, with a cell’s-eye view, you would not be able to imagine what your body as a whole looked like, would you?

We might be a dream in someone else’s mind, yet deluded into believing that it is we who are doing the dreaming. Maybe when we dream, the characters in our dreams believe themselves to have their own existence.

I watched Inception over the weekend – the people who inhabited the dreams were explained as subconscious projections, yet they appeared to have autonomy. So it is in our own dreams: the people in our dreams appear to have autonomy – we do not have access to their thoughts (indeed, we do not consider that they have thoughts – we are only aware of our ‘own’, ie the thoughts of the perspective from which we experience, or inhabit, the dream – at least, that’s my experience) nor do we have control of their behaviour. We believe that everything’s happening in our imagination, that everything in our dreams is a creation of our subconscious and maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t, but even if it is then maybe, just maybe, all these dream characters are not the mindless robots they appear to be, but they have their own consciousness – perhaps it’s the case that we are only capable of perceiving things through one perspective at a time yet there might always be multiple perspectives available to us, if only we knew how to move among them. (Note to self: see if I can jump around the minds/perspectives of characters in my dreams.)

If you think that’s a far-fetched idea, prove I’m wrong.

On the other hand, perhaps when we dream we go to some shared space of consciousness. Perhaps being awake disconnects us from this space. If this is so, which is the ‘real’ world? Perhaps we oscillate between worlds and both are simultaneously real and imagined.

I once – many years ago when my dreams were way more interesting than they are nowadays – had this experience: I dreamed about a colleague who I was friendly with. The next day he looked at me very strangely and avoided me for days. It made me wonder whether he had either coincidentally dreamed about me or – more strangely, but who knows? – been in the same dream as me.

I wonder if anyone has done any research on group dreaming. I feel a Google search coming on. (Seconds later…) The answer is yes and I found this amazing quote:

‘If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke – Aye, what then?’  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(Note to self: read Coleridge.)


2 thoughts on “How do we know we’re real?

  1. Interesting topic, I was actually replying to Brian Hines’ Church of the Churchless blog about the existence of God and then found out about your blog, I like the topic you talk about here, I have felt the same things, dreams and all that stuff that seem to get in synch with other people’s feelings or dreams too. How do we know we are real? We can’t know, in fact maybe we shouldn’t know, maybe knowing would bring suffering to us? Maybe knowing is not for everyone, you put me to think a lot of things, thanks.

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