Wesley and Rudisill on Discerning Dreams

October 26, 2015

Here is a relevant experience of mine: I was about 12 years old and lay down on a cot on the back, screened porch on a warm day in Rome, Georgia (USA), and I fell asleep.* Suddenly I was awaken by shouts and sounds of gun shots; I carefully raised myself from my cot and peered over the banister into the back yard where I saw a raging gun battle between two groups of men, one of which, led by an uncle I saw only rarely, was charging the other. The ground was covered with wounded and dead, and the air was filled with smoke. I became very frightened and lay back down on the cot in order to avoid being shot; and then it suddenly occurred to me to get up and go find my daddy. And so I jumped up from the cot and ran upstairs only to find him and my brother calmly working on some project together. “What’s going on?!” I shouted to them. “What’s wrong?” my father asked, expressing surprise at my state. I went to the window and peered carefully down into the back yard where the battle should have been raging, and there I saw only a peaceful back yard with no guns or men or wounded, indeed not even broken shrubbery or displaced yard utensils. I then realized that I had been sleeping during the battle, and that it was all a dream.**

* The passage in the following italic type  describes the content of the dream.

** This dream is also utilized in an earlier blog on The Fit Of Subjective And Objective Perceptions.

The reason for the difficulty I had in making out the dream in this case is because the elements and details of the dream fitted in perfectly with the details and elements of my waking perceptions before and following the dream. The getting off of the cot and seeing the battle and laying back down all took place only in my dream, but it fitted in perfectly with my original laying down on the cot to sleep and my getting up off of the cot to go find my father. But this is what we do generally in dealing with what we come to call dreams and the real world: we conceive of as an independent and uniformly existing world (the famous and unexamined presupposition of David Hume), and we first order and arrange the appearances as elements of the sightings of this world. Essentially we connect all perceptions together within a single expanse of time. By virtue of this the appearances between getting out of bed and going to bed are reality, and those between going to bed and getting out of bed are dreams. The former all fit together, and even include the latter, but considered as dreams. The dream cannot be fitted in with the other perceptions in terms of its actual content, e.g., the raging battle was cleaned up too quickly to be accounted for, and so is ascribed to our mental reflection of this world of Hume. A remarkable construction which has to be undertaken by every human!

John Wesley, a contemporary of Kant (neither of whom ever heard of the other) wrote something similar regarding dreams in his Sermon 121, i.e., “5. And how can we certainly distinguish between our dreams and our waking thoughts? What criterion is there by which we may surely know whether we are awake or asleep? It is true, as soon as we awake out of sleep, we know we have been in a dream, and are now awake. But how shall we know that a dream is such while we continue therein? What is a dream? To give a gross and superficial, not a philosophical, account of it: It is a series of persons and things presented to our mind in sleep, which have no being but in our own imagination. A dream, therefore, is a kind of digression from our real life. It seems to be a sort of echo of what was said or done a little when we were awake. Or, may we say, a dream is a fragment of life, broken off at both ends; not connected either with the part that goes before, or with that which follows after? And is there any better way of distinguishing our dreams from our waking thoughts, than by this very circumstance? It is a kind of parenthesis, inserted in life, as that is in a discourse, which goes on equally well either with it or without it. By this then we may infallibly know a dream, — by its being broken off at both ends; by its having no proper connection with the real things which either precede or follow it.”

Note: All of the above is copied from a kantwesley web page on discerning dreams according to Kant. See also Thomas Reid and the “Split Finger“.

Author contact: pmr#$kantwesley.com, replacing #$ with @

Filed under: Kant


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