Dreaming Outside Our Heads

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks ask: ‘Sooner or later any theory of consciousness must address this question: How can it be that during sleep, but very occasionally in waking moments too, we have experiences that have nothing to do with the world immediately around our bodies? The dominant, “internalist” account of consciousness—based on the assumption that consciousness is generated by neural activity in the brain—has no difficulty in responding to this question. Indeed it’s one of the curiosities of internalism

that it is most confident when describing those areas of experience about which we are least certain. The internalists say, If I can have the experience of climbing a snowy mountain on a bright day when I am fast asleep in a dark room, this must mean that the brain can generate experience without contact with external reality. Some internalists draw on dreams and hallucinations to suggest that all experience is no more than a form of “reliable hallucination,” a movie in the head with only tenuous relation to the outside world.’ [pictured is Nicola Bealing’s “Deep Water, 2011”]

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