When Dreams Betray You

06 Jan

I just thought I would draw attention to a recent post by John W. Loftus, and a comment that I and another person made. Loftus posted an email he received from someone who converted back to Christianity after having a dream (of course, the person doesn’t think it was a dream).

This is a comment from “wholething”:

Theists often tell us we are not allowed to question their “personal experiences”. But why do so many of them sound like waking dreams?

I once heard someone throw open the back door and was walking down the hallway to my bedroom. I couldn’t move and became really scared as I recognized that I was in a waking dream state and tried to force my way out of it to confront the intruder, all the while thinking what a rotten time to be having a waking dream when an intruder was in the house.

As he approached my bed, I was finally able to turn my head voluntarily and then throw the blanket at him. I was about to start punching him through the blanket.

The blanket fell to the floor. He wasn’t under the bed, either.

I felt very shook up. I searched around the house. Eventually I noticed that the back door was still closed though I had heard it open and slam against the wall. This was the empirical evidence that made me realize that the intruder was really a part of my waking dream.

We often have dreams that seem real and they may be scary. When we wake up, we find we are in bed which proves to us that it was just a dream. But what if we dream we are in bed when God talks to us, or an angel, or a deceased relative, or a space alien transports us to his ship and back to our bed? How do you disconfirm that it was real?

A friend told me he was in bed when he heard a car crash into his living room. He even felt the bed shake. He immediately called the police. Then he went to investigate the damage but nothing had happened. The police told him they get calls like that alot. (my emphasis)

The moral is: Don’t believe everything the brain tells you when you are asleep.

Please pay attention to that second to last sentence. Police told him they get calls like that a lot. This means that there are lots of people who have very real experiences of home invasions and/or cars crashing into their houses when the person thinks they are awake — real enough that they call the police once they get out of bed — yet the experiences weren’t real.

Imagine if these people never went through the trouble of double checking whether their doors were open and/or there was an actual car in their houses after calling the police and then becoming indignant with the police once the cops arrived and told them there was no evidence. That is the situation we have with people who experience god during the period between sleep and consciousness and don’t do any double checking to see if the experience was real or not. How could you even check that? God isn’t supposed to be tested!

And then this is what I wrote:

This person seems to think that a hallucination doesn’t have physiological affects on the body. They do (if hallucinations didn’t have an affect on the body, then they can’t be hallucinations, since hallucinations usually cause an emotional reaction in the person; which is a phsyiological response). It also seems this person hasn’t done any reading on the various sorts of sleep disorders out there.

What he wrote seems to be an almost textbook case of “old hag” syndrome. I’ve had it a lot. It seems like a very real event that happening to you. You feel half asleep and half awake and you feel a presence — a very, very powerful or foreboding presence (either you’re being watched by aliens or some unbelievably powerful supernatural entity) — and your heart starts to race and then you wake up.

I’ve had exactly what this person has had before, especially the heart racing after you “wake up” feeling. It’ scary, and if I hadn’t read up about sleep disorders, or taken an undergraduate course on psychology, then I’d definitely still be a Christian of some sort since I still get ‘em time to time.

These sorts of things are caused by stress and/or irregular sleep cycles. From what I’ve read, most cases of alien abductions are due to old hag syndrome (and, obvoiously, not from actual aliens). Most people, unfortunately, aren’t humble enough to concede that their own — uninformed — interpretation of their experience might not be the correct interpretation of their experience. When this is pointed out, they react like we’re saying the experience didn’t actually happen. No, the experience did happen, but your interpretation of what caused it is probably incorrect.

Basically, if this person’s experience is “true”, then so are alien abductions, since those “encounters” are just as real as his “encounter” with “god”.

Right now I’m in the middle of writing my own “deconversion story” and experiences like this play a pretty significant role in my teenage years.

Of course, another commenter made a good observation:

John, not sure you’d seen this, but there was a rescent story about a young man who died from a heart condition. Before he died he made a video talking about his heart condition that went viral after his death.

However one of the odd things was that before he died he had at least one heart attack where his heart had stopped for some time. But what was interesting during this was that he saw a rapper named Kid Cudi

What was funny, and I can’t seem to locate where I saw the interview. But one of the recent interviews with the parents. The mother was kind of joking about not sure why he did not see Jesus when he was dead. But she kind of laughed it off.

The point of my story, is just to reemphasize that experience cannot be trusted, when it comes to visions and feelings we have when we are not quite ourselves.

Is god really only able to manipulate our lives when we are not quite in control of our faculties? IE Sleep, halucigens [sic], meditation, prayer

Why is it that the gods can only communicate with us convincingly when we aren’t in our right state of mind? Why is it that we only get veridical experiences of the gods when we are somewhere between sleep and not-quite-not-asleep? Is Jesus a fan of The Sixth Sense?

You really shouldn’t trust your experiences either during sleep or immediately after waking up; or any other time you’re put under a lot of stress.

Or think about it this way. What is the prior probability of your brain being imperfect, compared to the prior probability of the existence of the supernatural?


Posted by on January 6, 2012 in cognitive science


2 responses to “When Dreams Betray You

  1. atimetorend

    January 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    "I’ve had exactly what this person has had before, especially the heart racing after you “wake up” feeling. It’ scary, and if I hadn’t read up about sleep disorders, or taken an undergraduate course on psychology, then I’d definitely still be a Christian of some sort since I still get ‘em time to time."I had a dream like that as a teen-ager. A Christian friend had warned me to be concerned about my ozzie ozbourne tee shirt, which I thoroughly discounted. Until I woke up one night with a strong sense of a Presence in my closet. The very closet housing my ozzie shirt!So thanks, or no thanks, to my friends prompting, I made a connection between those feelings and belief in non-detectable spiritual entities. A powerful evangelistic tool…

  2. Hendy

    January 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    This is great. Best example I've ever run across is of James Randi describing an incredibly vivid out of body experience that he would have believed if only his son hadn't been able to point to some objective evidence to falsify it! Watch it on youtube!.

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