How do we know the difference between dreaming and waking life? Dreams seem real while we're immersed in them. So does everyday existence.
But before getting to that... a tale of my own.
Yesterday I sat down in Salem's Court Street Starbucks with a grande Pike Place in one hand and my laptop knapsack in the other. I fired up my MacBook and checked email, listening with half my attention to eight or so guys having a coffee house meeting.
"God" kept floating into my ear canal. Pretty soon it became evident that this was some sort of Christian men's group. The leader asked a new member to speak his mind.
Which had to do with how he was sure that God was giving him messages to do this or that -- join the group was part of it, I believe. He was convinced that these divine signs weren't coincidences. I couldn't follow the details and still peruse my emails.
The men were just a few feet away from me. I was the only other person in that section of the Starbucks store. I felt like an alien visitor to Earth listening to a conversation that would sound freakily weird on my world.
Except, when I got in my car and drove away I started to think about all the weird coffee house conversations that I've had over many years.
I've sat around with friends who believed as I did -- that we were initiated by a guru, God in human form, who now resides within our head in his subtle spiritual form and is going to accompany us through vast mysterious higher realms of consciousness, taking care of our karmas along the way, bringing into our lives exactly what is needed to break the cycle of reincarnations that have kept us being reborn as animals, plants, insects, and god knows what else for countless eons.
Yet I had just been sipping my coffee and typing away on my laptop, feeling a sense of relief (and also, I have to admit, superiority) that now I wasn't enchained by ridiculous dogmas like those Christian guys were.
As if I, or they, have any choice in what we believe. Or not believe. Metzinger writes:
Probably most professional philosophers in the field [of physical underpinnings of actions and of conscious free will] would hold that given your body, the state of your brain, and your specific environment, you could not act differently from the way you're acting now -- that your actions are predetermined, as it were.
...This is a widely shared view: It is, simply, the scientific worldview. The current state of the physical universe always determines the next state of the universe, and your brain is a part of this universe.
Sure, I've been doing some waking up. Not because I stood outside of myself, watching my brain dream religious fantasies, and then turning on some sort of Enlightenment Alarm Clock.
No, I've just been cruising along inside my ego tunnel, as we all are, doing whatever, however, whenever.
I feel more awake now. But how do I know what is "waking"? How does anybody?
Here's Metzinger's story about waking up twice. A lot of food for thought here. (And another blog post, I'm pretty sure.) OBE stands for "out-of-body experience."
"During the night of May 6, 1986, I became consciously aware that I was sleeping and also spiraling out of my physical body, in the typical manner described by Swiss biochemist Ernst Waelti (see chapter 3). Here is my 'case study'.
Standing in front of my bed, I immediately realized that, for the first time in two years, I had entered the OBE state again. The clarity, the same electrified sense of lightness in my double body, made me excited and extremely happy, and I immediately began to experiment.
I moved toward the closed glass door of the second-floor balcony in my parents' house. I touched the door, gently pushing it until I penetrated it and slid out onto the balcony. I flew down into the garden and landed on the lawn, where I moved about in the dim moonlight and looked at things. Again, the whole experience was crystal clear.
When I became afraid of not being able to sustain the condition much longer, I flew back up, somehow returned to my physical body, and awoke with a mixture of great pride and joy. I had not managed to make any verifiable observations, but I had had another OBE, in a clear, cognitively lucid way, fully controlled and without any intermediary blackouts. I sat up, wanting to take notes as long as everything was still fresh, but couldn't find a pencil.
I jumped out of bed and went over to my sister (who slept in the same room), woke her up, and told her, with great excitement, that I had just managed to do it again, that I had just been down in the garden, bouncing around on the lawn a minute ago.
My sister looked at her alarm clock and said, "Man, it's quarter to three! Why did you have to wake me up? Can't this wait until breakfast? Turn out the light and leave me alone!" She turned over and went back to sleep. I was a bit disappointed at this lack of interest.
I also noticed that while fumbling with the alarm clock, she had accidentally set it off. It was beeping away and I hoped it hadn't wakened anybody else. Too late! I could hear someone approaching.
At that moment, I woke up. I was not upstairs in my parents' house in Frankfurt but in my basement room, in the house I shared with four friends about thirty-five kilometers away. It was not quarter to three at night; the sun was shining and I had obviously been taking a short afternoon nap.
For more than five minutes, I sat on the edge of my bed almost frozen, not daring to move. I was unsure how real this situation was. I did not understand what had just happened to me. I didn't dare move, because I was afraid I might wake up again, into yet another ultrarealistic environment.
In dream research, this is a well-known phenomenon called false awakening."