The Mandukya Upanishad is a philosophical text found in the Vedas, which are among the most important scriptures of Hinduism. Here is what V. Subrahmanya Iyer says in a foreword to a translation of the Mandukya Upanishad:

While [the Mandukya Upanishad] shows how the most advanced modern sciences and modern philosophies are approaching its conclusions, it gives to the world of our own times its central doctrine that partial data give partial truth, whereas the totality of data alone gives perfect truth. The ‘Totality’ of data we have only when the three states of waking, dream and deep-sleep are co-ordinated for investigation. Endless will be the systems of philosophy, if based on the waking state only. Above all inasmuch as this philosophy holds that mere ‘satisfaction’ is no criterion of truth, the best preparation for a study of Vedānta Philosophy is.a training in scientific method, but with a determination to get at he very end: ‘To stop not till the goal (of Truth) is reached.’

Personally, as a Hindu myself I am skeptical of V. Subrahmanya Iyer's characterization of the Mandukya Upanishad, but I am still interested in his quote for its own sake.

Empirical science focuses on what the mind experiences in the waking state, i.e. information about reality that is gleamed through the senses and, I suppose, through introspection of one's own mind. But my question is, have there been any thinkers who have formed a theory of reality which takes into account not just data from the waking state but also what the mind experiences in the dreaming state and the state of deep sleep?

I should mention that the reason V. Subrahmanya Iyer characterizes the Mandukya Upanishad in this way is that he interprets it as making the argument that just as in the waking state we find that all the objects in our dream are not there anymore, within a dream we find that objects of the waking world are not there anymore, so both objects in the waking world and objects in dreams are equally unreal. But are there other thinkers who have used our experiences in dreams to form other conclusions about reality?

  • I don't know any thinkers in particular, but I do believe cognative science as a whole seeks empirical answers regarding the brain in all states, including dreaming. – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Mar 29 '16 at 5:10
  • @KeshavSrinivasan What is the value of any investigation conducted while in any mental state other than your waking state? – Speakpigeon Sep 5 at 7:08

Sigmund Freud was a medical doctor and psychologist, more so than a philosopher, but his ideas are arguably philosophical, and he definitely saw himself as subscribing to a form of empiricism, since he saw psychoanalysis as being an empirical science of the mind. With this in mind, he would fit the bill for an empiricist who took into account dream states and the subconscious in his theories of the human self. One of his most influential books is "The Interpretation of Dreams".

Also, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an extensive article on Dreams and Dreaming. the references in there should be useful for your inquiry.

  • Freud Philosophical??? You need to read Cioffi and Wittgenstein for his demonstration that Freud's claims were pseudo-scientific. In short "Freud's fanciful pseudo-explanations (precisely because they are brilliant) perform a disservice. (Now any ass has these pictures available to use in 'explaining' symptoms of illness.)" - Ludwig Wittgenstein – Mr. Kennedy Nov 2 '16 at 3:06

Reasearch on sleep is the subject of empirical research as part of psychology and medicine.

For an introduction see


The broadest classification discriminates between REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. The latter is the stage of dreaming.

Sigmund Freud was the first who investigated the semantics of our dreams as part of his psychoanalytic approach. He characterized our dreams as the "royal road to the unconscious". This was a groundbreaking insight, because also today it is difficult to access the unconscious processes of our mind.

Different from legends which interpret dreams as prophecies, Freud made the hypothesis that - broadly speaking - dreams represent wishes of the dreamer and their fulfillment. He published his theses in "Freud, Sigmund: The interpretation of dreams (German: Die Traumdeutung)" 1900. The book is a classic and a must for dream research - even when its results are questioned and even when it is questioned, whether the whole domain of psychoanalysis is science.

  • Why should dreams be anything but dreams? While we obviously remember something of our dreams, it seems we can't investigate our own dreams while we are asleep dreaming. So, the only "royal" road is not our dreams but the memory of our dreams and it is only a road to our dreams and nothing else. There is no good reason to take dreams to be somehow representative of our other unconscious processes. There are better candidates for this role, mental illnesses for example. Freud's merit is to have understood the empirical value of the memory of our dreams. And little else, it seems. – Speakpigeon Sep 5 at 7:01

I recently heard an interesting story on NPR you might be enjoy: http://www.radiolab.org/story/182747-wake-up-dream/

In particular they spoke to Steve LaBerge, author of, "Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming" and he speaks of Dr. William C. Dement who has done some very interesting research in the area of sleep and dreaming.

There is plenty of empirical research on dreaming, e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737577/ but if you are looking for "perfect truth" consider that the "totality of data" is an absolutists canard.

We are not omniscient beings. Knowledge of perfect truth is logically and epistemically impossible. Knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. Despite this we build bridges, skyscrapers, replace human hearts and send people to the moon with our uncertain, "non-absolute" knowledge.

Consider that the self cannot be rationally assessed. How are we to verify the dreamers claim that while their eye-movement displayed a certain pattern, or when they reached up from their bed that they were dreaming of this, that or the other? We can agree and conclude the dreamers claims sincere, but we cannot.


2 years ago I started experimenting with Lucid dreaming. I am able to consciously control the flow of my dreams now. Dreams are just a collection of impressions, transformed by your intelligence . By Intelligence , I mean a collective unconscious , the citta' and not just the intellect (a product of your brain). About Reality I can only say this , from kena upanishad ,

This great reality is something other than what you know , and something more than what you dont know.

Dreams have an important role in that they are the nexus of different states of consciousness, much like an ocean that takes in water from different rivers. To be aware when dreaming is to witness the meeting of memory, intelligence and creativity. When awake you are aware. You can perceive reality as projected in the firmament of your mind. When asleep , that perception shifts . You are pure mind. Not bound by the physical or the mental , a purer sense of consciousness could be achieved.

NOTE : This is just one way , obviously there are countless ways of achieving the same pure state.

  • I enjoyed very much reading your answer, but note it is not an answer to the question in question. – nir Dec 2 '16 at 15:14

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