How Dream Arguments Can End Up Forcing You Down the Rabbit Hole and Through the Looking-Glass
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is most likely the first work of literature that you’ll become familiar with that deals more with the psychological aspect of dreams than anything else. Despite what you may expect, Lewis Carroll’s novels are not just expressions of warped mysticism. Instead, they are in-depth explanations of some of the more interesting dream theories floating around. In particular, the sequel to Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, is a strong example of Descartes’ dream argument.
The dream argument is an interesting theory that has probably occurred to most people at one time or another. Descartes claims that dreaming can never be recognized from real life events, which means that, at any time, a person could be dreaming and not even realize it.
Descartes takes the theory a step further with the thought that, if a person can never tell when they’re dreaming, then there is always the chance that whatever knowledge you’ve gained through various experiences is not worth anything because it is not real. Descartes produced a theory that made all knowledge suspect, basically undermining whatever a person may feel confident in knowing since the knowledge is likely not the truth.
Realistically, the dream argument stretches to as far back as Plato’s time period. Even when Aristotle was alive, the Chinese Taoist Chuang Tzu made the point that a person can never know when they’re dreaming until after they’ve managed to wake up again.
This promoted the idea that the world and all of the leaps and bounds by society were nothing more than the product of someone’s dreams, which means that they never really existed outside of the mind.
Now that we’ve covered all of that, let’s get back to Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. In this particular installment of Alice’s adventures, Alice encounters the Red King while he’s asleep outside. Tweedledee and Tweedledum tell Alice that the king is dreaming about her.
When asked what the King may be dreaming about, the conversation in the book continues as follows:
‘Why, about YOU!’ Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. ‘And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?’
‘Where I am now, of course,’ said Alice.
‘Not you!’ Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. ‘You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’
‘If that there King was to wake,’ added Tweedledum, ‘you’d go out– bang!–just like a candle!’
‘I shouldn’t!’ Alice exclaimed indignantly. ‘Besides, if I’M only a sort of thing in his dream, what are YOU, I should like to know?’
‘Ditto,’ said Tweedledum.
‘Ditto, ditto!’ cried Tweedledee.
He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn’t help saying ‘Hush! You’ll be waking him, I’m afraid, if you make so much noise.’
‘Well, it’s no use YOUR talking about waking him,’ said Tweedledum, `when you’re only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you’re not real.’
‘I AM real!’ said Alice, and began to cry.
‘You won’t make yourself a bit realer by crying,’ Tweedledee remarked: `there’s nothing to cry about.’
‘If I wasn’t real,’ Alice said–half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous–`I shouldn’t be able to cry.’
‘I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?’
When you consider the conversation from a non-fictional standpoint, the points that are brought up can be quite alarming. To think that you do not really exist at all but are simply the product of someone’s dream is enough to stop many in their tracks even without the help of a Tweedledum and Tweedledee there to rub it all in. But while the dream argument may prove that it’s not the first time, nor the last, that people will wonder about the validity of their existence, it nevertheless raises many more questions than it puts to rest.
Even so, the theory is enough to make anyone feel just a bit closer to poor Alice, and maybe that’s enough for now.
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