For the past week and a half or so my philosophy professor has been talking to us about Descartes. Along with talking to us, we have been reading and listening to online material. The one argument that Descartes put forth that has had me thinking though is the fact that reality could, in fact, be a dream. I have been trying to imagine a place where that dream would start as of late and I think I have come up with a decent beginning.
When you are born, you don't remember it, your parents do, but you don't. You have pictures to remind you of what you were like as an infant, but cognitively, there is nothing that you remember for at least 2 or 3 years after your birth. So, if we were to look back at all of our memories and try to pick out the very first one that we can recall, a very difficult task in and of itself, I am sure that the memory would be of something that happened to us with others around, but we would have a feeling of being dropped right into the center of a "dream," so to speak, like the thing that is happening in our memory is so far removed from us it happened to a different person.
Isn't this similar to the experience you have when you dream? You are just dropped into the center of said dream, and don't know when or where it began. If it is a dream, then yes, it is exactly the same. But then you run into the issue of your mother actually giving birth to you. So maybe I am trying to think of this too literally.
If you accept the cartesian notion of mind, conceiving it as some kind of inner theatre where "impressions" are played out, then memories, dreams and experience would have little to differentiate them from the subject's point of view (hence cartesian scepticism). However, when you consider what it is actually like to remember something, I think this notion of the mind falls apart. If I ask you to remember what you had for lunch yesterday, no doubt you will be able to answer me correctly and immediately, however, clearly you do not see yesterday's dinner with your "mind's eye". Indeed, how on earth does one see
and "inner picture"? All that you see when your interlocutor asks you what you had for lunch yesterday is your interlocutor standing before you, and yet somehow you can give the correct answer anyway. Perhaps sometimes you cannot remember, but this surely is not because you've failed to find the relevant inner film reel, it's more a matter of just not knowing what to say.
On dreaming, the vivid impressions of dreams the one gets in literature or some peoples accounts is not akin to anything I've experienced. That's not to say that when I sleep I only have vague, blurry images running through my head. When I sleep I don't have any images or thoughts running through my head at all, I'm unconscious. However, when I wake up, sometimes I certainly have 'memory phenomena', I have impressions of having experienced something in the past, but I fail to see how they could possibly be real memories; nothing happened to me while I was asleep. That is to say, when I say "I dreamed X", the truth of this statement is determined by a fact about me when I wake up rather than a fact about me when I was asleep. Consider, could there be any difference between what it seems to me that I dreamed when I awake, and what I actually dreamed? If one is shaken awake by somebody who then asks you "What did you dream while you were asleep?" Would it make any sense for you to say, "I don't remember"? Surely, it would be better to say that you didn't dream.