What If We Are Living in a Dream World? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
As a human being, you spend around a third of your life sleeping, and for about 6 YEARS of that you'll be DREAMING... But how do we know that the dream is over when we wake up? In this video, Unveiled uncovers the mind-boggling theory that says that nothing is real, and everything is an illusion!

What If We’re Living in a Dream World?

As a human being, you spend around a third of your life sleeping, and for about six years of that you’ll be dreaming. Dreams are such an important part of our lives, then, but they still aren’t fully understood by science. When we wake up, we can at least assume the dream is over, though… can’t we?

This is Unveiled and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; What if we’re living in a dream world?

The question about the true nature of reality is one that philosophers and scientists have pondered for thousands of years. Is reality a stable, unchanging landscape? Or is it different for each and every observer? And how do we know that what we think is real, actually is real? Questions like these have then led to a number of different theories about reality - many of which we’ve covered in our dedicated playlist, so check that out after this!

Solipsism, for example, says that nothing besides our own thoughts can ever be proven to be real to our own selves. In the context of today’s question, this could be seen as pitching reality in with dreams, arguing that both are similar as both are creations of our own minds. In a looser sense, there’s little doubt that we, all of us, do create our own, unique versions of reality. Whether our friends and homes and cities and landscapes are the product of a souped up dream or not, how we experience them is a completely personal matter. Our senses, plus the biochemistry happening inside each of our own bodies, is what guides how we think and feel. So, from this perspective, everyone’s reality is different to everyone else’s. It’s still quite a leap, though, from wondering if reality isn’t simply like a dream, to actually imagining that it is one itself.

One of the prominent starting points for this theory - the idea that this life really is just one big, involuntary, uncontrollable mental construction - is our seemingly shared inability to realize when we’re dreaming. As in, to realize when we’re dreaming while asleep. During a standard dream, more often than not the fact that we are asleep is totally lost on us - despite all of the fantastical and sometimes impossible events that might be happening around us. This happens because when we sleep, we aren’t fully conscious, and some of our cognitive abilities - including memory - are significantly slowed… which is part of the reason why we struggle to remember dreams, at all.

If, then, we’re often unaware that we’ve just been in a dream until after we’ve woken up from it, couldn’t the same be true of the world we’ve woken up into? Wouldn’t we be just as oblivious right now if this life - this video, even - was also part of a dream? It would turn our standard dreams into dreams within a dream… and, if we were to ever, at our current level, dream about dreaming about something, then we’d have a dream within a dream within a dream… and, well, you get the point!

Dream world advocates also highlight as potential evidence, though, the peculiar sensation we often feel in times of great fortune or immense tragedy. Sufficiently shocking news - good or bad - can bring with it a sense of separation from reality itself. As our emotions soar or plunge to their extremes, human beings so often describe feeling detached from the world around them - sometimes going so far as to question whether they’re awake or sleeping. It’s when we either; pinch ourselves because we must be dreaming, or; beg to be taken out of this nightmare. If this kind of blurring of the boundaries is common in reality as we understand it, then, might it also be possible across a higher plane of existence? It’s just that this life is a far more sophisticated and convincing dream, most of the time, making it so much more difficult and unlikely that we’d ever detach ourselves from it. At least, that’s one interpretation of the “life is a dream” theory!

This sophistication, though, the apparent real-ness of real life, is also a major stumbling block for dream world advocates. One of the most distinctive features of dreams is their often outlandish and random nature. Dream settings can switch in an instant, impossible feats can be easily accomplished, and people can appear and disappear just because. So, if reality were also a dream, then shouldn’t it be filled with the same unpredictable quirkiness?

Obviously, in real life, dream things don’t usually happen; mountains don’t just turn into deserts in the blink of an eye, nobody walks through walls, and you’re not (yet) best friends with whoever your favourite celebrity is! But, scale down the randomness, and it actually is all around us. At the quantum level, particles have been shown to exist in two states at once, or to be in multiple places at the same time, or to be able to communicate with other particles instantly even at great distances. If we think of life as some kind of dream sim, then, it’s with the quantum particles where the disorder lies… but put those particles all together, and that disorder is hidden by a reality that appears safe and predictable (again, most of the time).

So, where do lucid dreamers fit into all of this? A lucid dream is one in which the person dreaming it is aware that it’s a dream, and so they’re able to control their dream landscape. In today’s dream version of reality, then, lucid dreamers would be all-powerful beings. Only they would know the true nature of reality, and they could even mould and shape destiny to their own liking. In standard dreaming while we’re asleep, we know that the parts of the brain which deal with logic and rational thinking - including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex - are barely in use… so, if this was also the case in a dream world, then lucid dreamers wouldn’t even be limited by logic. To them, even the laws of nature would no longer apply. Suffice to say, nobody has yet come forward to proclaim themselves as a lucid dreaming, reality-shifter quite like this… but if we were living in a dream world, then such figures would exist.

Finally, though, if reality really is a dream, then whose dream is it? Is it yours, or are you just part of someone else’s? We might reasonably consider ourselves to be smart, intelligent and advanced creatures… but now we’d account for just one part of either our own, someone else’s, or something else’s dreamscape. We, and everything we’ve ever known, would be the figments of a superior brain, somewhere else, that’s currently sleeping. And, considering again that some parts of our brains - like those dealing with logic, language, sight and memory - aren’t even fully functioning when we dream, whatever has dreamt all of this up must have some serious imagination! Imagine our entire, actual reality being the product of just one part-performing brain, because that’s what we’re dealing with here! And, if that brain is also your brain, then how you are now represents only a fraction of your overall abilities in the real world.

If it was somehow revealed, then, that life worked in this way, the first priority for many would be to wake up from it. But, how could we go about doing that? “How to wake up” would become the single biggest question in need of answering… as the quest to achieve transcendence would dominate our minds. But it might also never yield results. And, in fact, were the illusion of life to shatter so dramatically (for all of us, or for just one of us) then it could bring about some dire consequences.

So, while life being a dream certainly makes for an interesting thought experiment, perhaps this is one theory which shouldn’t dramatically change how we think; how we approach the everyday business of living. Yes, if it were ever proven to be correct, then you - or whoever created you - could be sleeping away their actual days in some other, higher dimension… which is pretty mind-boggling to think about. But who’s to say that their version of reality is the true one? Couldn’t their existence (which, in turn, has created our existence) also be the dream of something else, even more advanced?

For some, the nature of reality is something that we might never be able to conclusively prove. But there are upsides to this particular version. One is that it figures that we’ll one day wake up, and be imbued with all the knowledge and understanding we need. Another is that, until then, we do at least have the opportunity to think and feel and see and experience life as we know it. So, let’s make the most of it! Because that’s what would happen if we were living in a dream world.