Recently had a dream where I was in a situation I have never been before in "real life" - (no real experience prior to the dream of this situation).

After waking, all the feelings, thoughts, memories of what I did in the dream were still there, and could now do this activity through the skills and experience I learned in the dream.

Thus, what is the difference of experience gained from a dream versus a "real experience"?

Please note I am not asking: How does one know one is not dreaming? or how one knows one is or is not dreaming? This is irrelevant.

Put in everyday terms: Someone experienced a certain action of work in a dream and listed the experience on a resume - how can I deny it or say it is false - only by the definition of it being documented or effecting others?

  • 1
    Seems pretty close to this -- philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/24/… -- could you maybe develop this a bit further, maybe try to show what this question is asking that's not covered in the other one?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 0:34
  • 2
    See If a tree falls in a forest.... If you genuinely influenced the external world not at all (which seems impossible), it's hard to differentiate that from a dream.
    – Xodarap
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 0:44
  • 2
    After your revision, I am in doubt if you are concerned at all with experience proper or with "gaining experience" in the sense of acquiring skills. In the last sense it seems pretty clear that dreaming about playing basketball doesn't really affect your skills like actually playing basketball does.
    – DBK
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 1:39
  • 2
    Now, I'm not sure what you mean when you say you gained experience doing whatever it is that you were doing. You are perfectly able to do things you've never done before without having done them before, otherwise you would never have been able to gain the experience of them in the first place. Perhaps mirror neurons may play a role here...
    – danielm
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 17:33
  • 2
    Formulated this way I don't see how this is a philosophical question. Aren't capabilities and aptitudes objects of other sciences, at least in this practical way?
    – iphigenie
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


There are papers in the philosophy of literature (I don't remember names and authors, I can look them up if this sounds interesting to you) that talk about literature as a tool for gaining ethical knowledge by "placing" oneself into novel situations. I believe there is a reference to mirror neurons, which are a mechanism for sympathy that works by forcing the brain to mirror someone else's emotions (as opposed to simulating them). There is also evidence in psychology that, say, practicing an instrument in one's sleep is a lot like real practice (once again, haven't read this stuff in a while but would be able to find it).

I think this question would do well being moved to the cognitive sciences SE. But as a quick answer, it appears that experiences in one's sleep (and thought-experiments, for that matter), can indeed be very useful. But, as was mentioned by @danielm above, the system one is working in at these times is no longer the world, but is rather one's imagination. This means one is bound to make mistakes where one's knowledge falls short, and won't necessarily notice that such mistakes were made, because there is neither physical reality nor other people to provide a natural "check".

This was Plato's problem with the arts, as presented in The Republic (see SEP on Plato's aesthetics): an artist imitates the truth as it appears to his or her imagination, and the unwitting public takes it as fact. There need not be an artist/audience separation; the same can be said of an individual undertaking a thought-experiment, or dreaming.

  • thanks, this is helpful, I think the part about a "check" is the biggest difference. Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 5:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .