The Thought Police Brief Answers to Big Questions: 2. Do Butterflies Dream?
Sorensen, Roy, The Independent (London, England)
If people never dreamed, philosophers would certainly lose the most natural way of introducing scepticism. The Chinese Taoist, Chuang Tzu (369BC - ?), dreamt he was a butterfly. When he awoke he wondered whether he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly that was dreaming it was a man. Any experience can be explained as either a faithful representation of the world or as a mere figment of a sleeper's imagination.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) tried to put science on a foundation of absolute certainty by devising a test for whether he was dreaming. He suggested that he could not be dreaming if he had a "clear and distinct idea" of being awake. Descartes' reasoning was that he had earlier "proved" that God exists and that He would not have created a world in which even responsible thinkers were doomed to err. Since God's goodness precludes Him from being a deceiver, the methodologically scrupulous are infallible. Ironically, Descartes' "clear and distinct idea" test was inspired by a dream (while in military service on 10 November, 1619 in Ulm, Germany) in which God revealed the treasure chest of knowledge.
I have never had a dream directly about God. My dreams are generally nightmares about lecturing mishaps. For instance, in one dream a perceptive student asks: "Professor Sorensen, why are you dressed in pyjamas?" Sometimes these anxiety dreams are more erudite. When I first lectured on my hero, David Hume (1711-1776), I was nervous about whether I had correctly interpreted his subtle objection to the following argument: 1. If there are miracles, then God exists. 2. There are miracles. 3. Therefore, God exists. Hume balked at the second premise, but not on the grounds that it was false. His complaint was that no one could rationally believe the second premise. Miracles are intrinsically …
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Publication information: Article title: The Thought Police Brief Answers to Big Questions: 2. Do Butterflies Dream?. Contributors: Sorensen, Roy - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 22, 1998. Page number: 3. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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