Psych 4320

Shimon Edelman, <se37@cornell.edu>

dreaming and reality

 week 1

DREAMING AND REALITY, week 1 (out of 3)


He wanted to dream a man...


The opening of The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges — translation matters! — :

"No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night, no one saw the bamboo canoe sink into the sacred mud, but in a few days there was no one who did not know that the taciturn man came from the South and that his home had been one of those numberless villages upstream in the deeply cleft side of the mountain, where the Zend language has not been contaminated by Greek and where leprosy is infrequent." "Nobody saw him come ashore in the encompassing night, nobody saw the bamboo craft run aground in the sacred mud, but within a few days everyone knew that the quiet man had come from the south and that his home was among the numberless villages upstream on the steep slopes of the mountain, where the Zend language is barely tainted by Greek and where lepers are rare."

He wanted to dream a man...


A few gems from The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges:

"...a stone tiger, or horse, which once was the color of fire and is now the color of ash."
"The faces listened, bright and eager, and did their best to answer sensibly, as if they felt the importance of his questions, which would raise one of them out of an existence as a shadow and place him in the real world."
"After nine of ten nights he realized, feeling bitter over it, that nothing could be expected from those pupils who passively accepted his teaching, but that he might, however, hold hopes for those who from time to time hazarded reasonable doubts about what he taught."

He wanted to dream a man...


A few gems from The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges:

"The countless strands of hair were perhaps the hardest task of all."
How does Computation Affect our Environment?

Smith's Law. In 1999, Alvy Ray Smith, Microsoft graphics guru and co-founder of Pixar, said "Reality is 80 million polygons." Joi Ito notes that Toy Story had 5-6 million polygons per frame. Toy Story 2 had twice that. Our best digital faces today have 100 motion control points. The actual Reality Transition may be 800 million polygons per frame and thousands of control points. We will reach that threshold within 15 years. What then?

He wanted to dream a man...


A few gems from The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges:

"Also, he reshaped the somewhat faulty right shoulder."
"Every father cares for the child he has begotten — he has allowed — in some moment of confusion or happiness."
"...the sky, which took on the rosy hue of a leopard's gums..."
"In relief, in humiliation, in terror, he understood that he, too, was an appearance, that someone else was dreaming him."

reality is...


The basic premise of sorcery for a sorcerer is that the world of everyday life is not real, or out there, as we believe it is. For a sorcerer, reality, or the world we all know, is only a description.

[from the introduction to the Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda]

"oh, is it a dream?"


is reality merely a description? if yes, by whom?

...or is it a dream? [presumably, by me]

...can I control it?

PKD on telling apart dream and reality


"Tessa and I started out with conflicting realities, found that when each of us reality-tested the other's, it collapsed. But now, instead of mutually destroying each other's realities, we are shaping a joint one between us. If two people dream the same dream, it ceases to be an illusion; the basic test that distinguishes reality from hallucination is the consensus gentium, that one other or several others see it too.

This is the idios kosmos, the private dream, contrasted to the shared dream of us all, the koinos kosmos."

(from The Dark-Haired Girl, a collection of PKD's letters)


"If two people share the same dream, it ceases to be an illusion. Philip K. Dick's books and life are ultimately affirmative; they strengthen our sense of what is really real."

(from Only Apparently Real, a book on PKD by Paul Williams)

telling apart dream and reality


"But this world can't be para," Gretchen Borbman said, "because we all share it, and that's still our sole criterion, the one point we can hang onto."

from The Unteleported Man by Philip K. Dick

is this a valid criterion?

telling apart dream and reality


"But this world can't be para," Gretchen Borbman said, "because we all share it, and that's still our sole criterion, the one point we can hang onto."

from The Unteleported Man by Philip K. Dick

is this a valid criterion? not if

  1. cognition (including consciousness) is computation, and
  2. your CPU has some cycles to spare

telling apart dream and reality: consciousness to the rescue?


finding a conscious companion would not help pin the situation as real if your brain can simulate other minds, consciousness and all...

... then again... [to be continued: Psych 4320, Consciousness and Free Will, Fall 2016]

Regarding Reality (or: the truth about "Inception")

Regarding Reality: Some Consequences of Two Incapacities, S. Edelman (2011). Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 2:44.
  1. The seeds of doubt
  2. The mind as a virtual reality machine
  3. Nested realities
  4. On the possibility of experimental metaphysics
  5. Using statistics to test reality
  6. Cryptography to the rescue?
  7. Change we can believe in
  8. Likely objections
  9. Some consequences
  10. Postscript

9. Some consequences


9. Some consequences


"What I believe I should offer in concluding this discussion is a word of caution for anyone who would forgo a thorough understanding of the nature of reality in favor of a Zen-like insight into it. The Phenomenal Indifference and the Epistemological Ceiling principles, each rooted in a different variety of fundamental incapacity, conspire to pull the rug from under any such insight."

"Thus, a smart agent should know better than taking too seriously any piece of experience or knowledge, including its own enlightenment. Of course, the very same principles also imply that the agent’s mind can be secretly tampered with, in which case it may feel smart, enlightened, and in touch with the deepest level of existence, all the while remaining a puppet of a game designer from a higher reality."

"The impossibility of upgrading the universe without the requisite tampering being noticed from within it offers an intriguing explanation for the rather poor shape that it is in."

"Obedient Slumbers"


How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
"Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;"
Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n.
Grace shines around her with serenest beams,
And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams.
For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms,
And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes,
For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring,
For her white virgins hymeneals sing,
To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away,
And melts in visions of eternal day.

Alexander Pope, from Eloisa to Abelard

oneiric cybernetics


can we govern our dreams/reality so that they are more...
...like this ...than this?

sleep of reason


El sueño de la razon produce monstruos

Midway in life's journey, a man who might have been Dante or might have been Goya himself (on this the record is not clear) went astray and found himself alone in a dark wood. Never saw he so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Alas for him that he was an artist, and susceptible to such influences. Alas for us all that he fell asleep!

[from The Sleep of Reason by Michael Swanwick]

dreaming I: supplementary material