Re: Anthropic dreams

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Thu Sep 18 2003 - 02:50:39 MDT

On Wednesday 17 September 2003 20:18, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

> First, you need to know something about the way dreams work for me, and in
> particular, an odd thing about the way I wake up. Usually, like everyone,
> I forget my dreams. When I'm suddenly woken up, for example, by an alarm
> clock or by my cellphone ringing, it seems - I'm not quite sure if this is
> what is happening, but it's the explanation that seems most likely - it
> seems as if the last fifteen seconds of mental imagery are still "in my
> loop" when I wake up, so I remember them too, just as if they were lucid.
> So the memory I actually have is of waking up, and then five seconds or
> fifteen seconds *later*, the phone rings. With an experience like that,
> it's easy to see why anyone less than a dedicated rationalist would assume
> psychic powers; "Oh, look, I become lucid fifteen seconds *before* the
> phone rings, I must be psychic". Sometimes I'll even apparently remember
> that I have a dream in which an alarm goes off in my dream, which wakes me
> up, and then five seconds later the alarm goes off; one needs to have done
> quite a lot of reading in cognitive science before one looks at that and
> says, "Timing fault in memory formation - yes, the brain really is that
> fragile", and not "I had a precognitive dream."

As I understand it, the brain also is capable of generating quite a bit of
internal imagery/"story" around any external stimulus in a very short time
period. So one explanation is that the brain generated what seemed like an
amount of content that must have been responding to the stimulus long before
it actually happened. Switching between sleep and waking states causes the
assumptions of one to be sometimes used on the material/experience within the

There is also the phenomenon of lucid dreaming where one is partially awake in
the sense of being aware within a dream and being able to direct it. Many
people do this fairly often spontaneously and the ability is trainable to
some extent. Some friends use this ability to do creative problem solving
within the context of a dream and retain the solutions found upon waking. I
have done that a few times by accident.

> This led me to ponder the problem of dream memories and personal
> continuity. I now remember having experiences that I would not remember
> if I had not been woken up by an alarm clock; I remember those apparently
> lucid dream experiences, and those "inserted" memories, as if they were
> part of my ordinary life continuity. What happens to the person who
> experiences the dreams I have and *don't* remember? Did I really
> experience the dream of the alarm going off, or was the memory
> manufactured and inserted without ever being experienced? Are *all*
> dreams manufactured and inserted without ever being experienced?

Why would you consider it a separate person who had the dream experiences that
you do not remember? Do you even remember all of your waking experiences? I
don't see any real grounds for believing that the dreams were not actually

> This is where we stand at the moment I had my anthropic dream.
> My cellphone rang and woke me up. I apparently remembered becoming lucid
> in my dream a few seconds before the cellphone woke me. And my "inserted"
> dream experience leading up to the cellphone ringing was the thought: "If
> I don't wake up now, this experience will not have existed in retrospect.
> Therefore, since I'm now having this experience, something will wake me
> up."
> Now, what this *feels* like is this:
> You're dreaming, and your dream turns lucid, and you think to yourself:
> "If I don't wake up now, this experience won't have existed in retrospect.
> Therefore, since I'm having this experience, something will wake me up."

Actually, I almost invaribly wake myself up when I am finished with an
interesting stretch of lucid dreaming. It feels like "wake up and remember
this". It doesn't require an external stimulus. But such a stimulus might
be the reason the person would find more explicable. Yeah, this stuff does
get a bit twisted.

- samantha

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