On Tuesday, the fifth grade students with whom I’ve been doing philosophy and I spent about 40 minutes talking about dreaming. We started with the students’ questions, which included:
What is a dream?
Can dreams affect your everyday life?
How do dreams work?
Why do we dream?
How do we know we’re not dreaming right now?
How does what we think about affect our dreams?
Are dreams real?
How do you know you are dreaming?
We then began talking about what dreams are, whether they always include images and/or words, and we spent a little time talking about the differences between dreams and waking experience. Some students noted that dreams were “fuzzy,” “strange-feeling,” and included “things that couldn’t happen in real life, like flying.”

Other students, though, observed that often their dreams felt just like “real life” and that it took a while upon waking to clarify that what had happened was a dream. We then discussed whether we could be dreaming right now.

“There’s really no way to be sure we aren’t,” commented one student.

“Yes, there is,” another replied. “Dreams don’t feel this sharp and clear. And if this was a dream, we wouldn’t be talking about whether it was a dream.”

“We could be,” another student responded. “Sometimes I’m dreaming and I think I’m waking up and I ask myself if I’m still dreaming, and then realize I’m still in a dream. Like having a dream within a dream.”

Why do we dream?

“I think dreams help us to work out how we feel about things,” one student offered. “Sometimes I’m angry and then I dream about it and then I feel better because I know why I felt that way.”

“I believe dreams help us balance our feelings,” another student stated. “Like sometimes I feel sad, and then I dream something that makes me really happy. Or I’m really excited and then I dream something sad that calms me down.”

“Sometimes dreams are scary and you can wake up even more tired than you were before you went to sleep,” a student said.

“If you could choose whether you ever dreamed or not, would you choose to dream?” I asked the class.

Most students said yes. “Why? I asked.

“I think dreams allow our brains to stay active when we’re sleeping,” suggested one student. “Our brains don’t want to shut down altogether, and so we dream and that keeps our brains doing something,”

“It’s like dreams are screensavers for our minds!” a student declared.

Everyone seemed to like that idea.

“I think dreams are really interesting,” a student reflected. “I couldn’t imagine how it would be not to have dreams.”

“What if dreams were a really important part of life?” another student asked.

“What do you mean?” I responded.

“Well, what if we live a whole other life in our dreams, and we just don’t understand when we’re awake that our dreaming life is just as important as our waking life?”

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I sometimes think I do live a parallel life in my dreams and that one day I will confuse them and switch precedence… I will probably be considered senile at that point.
Or like Chuang Tsu?