Between Waking And Dreaming

Schrödinger’s Cat, via Discovery

Welook down on the superstitions of the past, and ignore the superpositions of the present. Modern living means holding many contradictory positions at once. Violence is bad, unless it’s in the movies, in which cases it’s great. Celebrities are madonnas in Vogue and whores in the tabloids. We’re both empowered citizens who must have an opinion about everything, and powerless plebes who can’t do anything.

DOUBLETHINK means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them — George Orwell

I say superposition because of the idea of quantum superposition. An effective religious belief based on how much any of us understand it, metaphorically mangled for whatever position we want to. In the vague quantum sense it means you don’t know a particle’s position until you observe it, like a cockroach it’s fucking everywhere until you flick on the lights. In the classic thought experiment, Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive if you keep it in the same box as a (potentially) deadly subatomic event.

Such is the state of the modern mind, by turns bloodthirsty and bloodless depending on when you ask. In the darkness of the movie theatre, we cheer for violence, for running from the cops, and taking justice into our own hands. Then we abhor the same behavior as terrorism or insurrection if we see it on the news. We form this distinction as easily as we do between the world of dreaming and waking and it is, indeed, the same thing.

The curious thing about dreaming is that we generally don’t know that it’s not real. It’s absurd and nothing makes sense, but it’s fully rendered enough and we’re generally bamboozled every night. We never consider that we might also be bamboozled during the day. As Zhuangzi famously said in his parable of the butterfly:

“Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, fluttering about joyfully just as a butterfly would. He followed his whims exactly as he liked and knew nothing about Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he awoke, and there he was, the startled Zhuang Zhou in the flesh. He did not know if Zhou had been dreaming he was a butterfly, or if a butterfly was now dreaming it was Zhou.”

The fact is that we use the same wet matter to render both dream and reality. They both run on the same hardware. It’s like using your phone to watch a movie or to make a movie. The ultimate experience is still the same pixels on a screen. So equally it is with synapses in the brain. We don’t know we’re dreaming because we’re running a highly convincing virtual reality simulator between our ears. We also generally don’t know that we’re just simulating reality when we wake up.

The fact is that there are no set colors or sounds or experiences in the world, per se. Other creatures experience different colors and sensations entirely, or don’t experience the same ones at all. To take just vision, we render image through rods and cones on our retina like the sensor on a camera. The image we process of reality is actually on a time-delay, reality often happens much faster than we can even process.