Self-Representation and Perspectives in Dreams

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Abstract

Integrative and naturalistic philosophy of mind can both learn from and contribute to the contemporary cognitive sciences of dreaming. Two related phenomena concerning self-representation in dreams demonstrate the need to bring disparate fields together. In most dreams, the protagonist or dream self who experiences and actively participates in dream events is or represents the dreamer: but in an intriguing minority of cases, self-representation in dreams is displaced, disrupted, or even absent. Working from dream reports in established databanks, we examine two key forms of polymorphism of self-representation: dreams (or dream episodes) in which I take an external visuospatial perspective on myself, and those in which I take someone else's perspective on events. In remembering my past experiences or imagining future or possible experiences when awake, I sometimes see myself from an external or ‘observer’ perspective. By relating the issue of perspective in dreams to established research traditions in the study of memory and imagery, and noting the flexibility of perspective in dreams, we identify new lines of enquiry. In other dreams, the dreamer does not appear to figure at all, and the first person perspective on dream events is occupied by someone else, some other person or character. We call these puzzling cases ‘vicarious dreams’ and assess some potential ways to make sense of them. Questions about self-representation and perspectives in dreams are intriguing in their own right and pose empirical and conceptual problems about the nature of self-representation with implications beyond the case of dreaming.

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