Life is But a Dream

“Regain your senses, call yourself back, and once again, wake up. Now that you realize that only dreams were troubling you, view this “reality’ as you view your dreams.”

Why would Marcus Aurelius urge us to view reality as dreams? 

Perhaps it is because it is possible for us to view dreams as reality. This is why our emotions can be stirred when we are dreaming. When we are dreaming we are not always aware that we are asleep. We are in a dream-world, one that can cause fear, joy, surprise, and myriad other emotions. Dreams take us, seemingly, to worlds we’ve been to and worlds that we have never experienced. 

When we awaken from our troubling dreams, we shake them off, because we realize that they were, after all, nightmares. We regain our senses. So, we must have somehow lost control of our senses in our dream state.

But our senses also deceive us when we are awake. This is one of Descartes’ crucial insights. 

“Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.”

Given that we are deceived by our perceptions when we are asleep or awake, there must be something similar about the two states.

Aurelius is concerned with the troubling nature of both dreams and “reality.” And how do we recover from troubling dreams? We realize that they are only dreams after all, and we regain our senses. We make sense of our dreams. How do we do this? We do this through reasoning.

When we are troubled in “reality,” we think through the troubles so that they are better understood. In this way, then, we can separate what is “real” from what is not.

This, however, was not good enough for Descartes. His senses had deceived him whether he was awake or asleep. So he attempted to doubt everything he knew, but there was one thing that he could not doubt, and that was the fact that he was doubting or thinking.

Aurelius realized that the troubles of “reality” are transient like those of dreams. When we make sense of our troubles, we awaken.

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