Conference Schedule

3rd July

9.30-10.45: Katja Valli (Turku and Skövde), “Simulation theories of dreaming”

11-12.15: Robert Cowan (Glasgow), “Moral Responsibility While Dreaming”

12.15-13.15: Lunch

13.15-14.30: Adriana Alcaraz Sánchez, (Glasgow) “I woke up with a blank mind. White dreaming and associated phenomena”

14.45-16:00: Michael Sheehy (Virginia), “Perceptual Plasticity, Performative Simulation, and Kinesthetic Sense in Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga Practices”

16.15- 17.30: Melanie Rosen (Trent), “Who is the self of my dream?”

4th July

9.30-10.45: Fiona Macpherson (Glasgow), “Perception in Dreams: A Guide for Dream Engineers, a Reflection on the Role of Memory in Sensory States, and a New Counterexample to Hume’s Account of the Imagination”

11-12.15: Ben Springett (Manchester), “What is the relationship between dreaming, sleeping and the unconscious?”

12.15-13.15: Lunch

13.15-14.30: Cecily Whiteley (Cambridge), “Searching for Natural Kinds of Sleep Experience”

14.45-16:00: Qiantong Wu (National University of Singapore), “Dreaming experience as an immersive imagination: A Response to the Doubt on Dream Reports by Schwitzgebel”

16.15- 17.30: Matthew Soteriou (KCL), “Dreams of being someone else”


Katja Valli (Turku and Skövde), “Simulation theories of dreaming”

Defining dreaming as realistic, albeit imprecise, world simulation (e.g., Snyder, 1970; Foulkes, 1985; Tart, 1987; Revonsuo, 2000; Domhoff, 2003; Windt, 2015) has resulted in a unified conception of its nature. Dreams can thus be described as constructive episodic-semantic simulations that creatively blend semantic information, past personal experiences and anticipated future events (e.g., Cavallero et al., 1990; Wamsley, 2022; Picard-Deland et al., 2023). However, the currently numerous simulation theories of dreaming are not a cohesive group. For instance, the evolutionary simulation theories such as the threat simulation theory (Revonsuo, 2000), the social simulation theory (Revonsuo et al., 2016), and the network exploration to understand possibilities -model (Zadra & Stickgold, 2021) assign a biological function for dreaming, but differ in their emphasis on the central content of dream simulations. In contrast, the neurocognitive theory (Domhoff, 2022) suggests that dreaming lacks adaptive functionality and is instead a dramatized extension of waking episodic simulations like mind wandering and daydreaming. Similarly, the Continuity hypothesis seems to align with the simulation definition but posits that dream content represents a non-functional continuation of waking activities, thoughts, and concerns (Schredl, 2003). Therefore, although most dream theories agree on the form of dreams, they offer contradictory explanations regarding how and why specific waking life experiences modulate dream content. In this presentation, I will discuss the similarities and differences among the prominent simulation theories of dreaming, and also delve into the relationship between dream simulations and other internally generated, stimulus-independent simulations, such as mind wandering.

Robert Cowan(Glasgow) “Moral Responsibility While Dreaming”

While waking, we are agents, i.e., we do things. Further, we are very often morally responsible for what we do such that some of the things we do are the proper object of moral blame. While asleep, we sometimes have dreams which are morally fraught, i.e., in dreams we do things which had they occurred in waking life would be the proper object of moral blame, e.g., dreams of infidelity. It is, however, far more controversial to claim that, while we dream, we do things which are themselves the proper object of moral blame. Doesn’t this have near-zero plausibility? In this talk I (partially) defend a conditional conclusion, DREAM RESPONSIBILITY: If subjects sometimes express agency while nonlucidly dreaming, then they are sometimes morally responsible for what they do and are potentially worthy of blame while dreaming and after they have awoken. After responding to the objection that dreams are morally innocuous and that potential for moral blame is therefore never actualised, I defend DREAM RESPONSIBILITY in two stages: first, arguing that we lack good reason to think that dreaming subjects are always incompetent while they dream such that they lack moral responsibility; second, arguing that dreaming subjects are sometimes culpably incompetent while dreaming such that they are indirectly morally responsible for what they do. I end by tracing some implications of DREAM RESPONSIBILITY.

Adriana Alcaraz Sánchez, (Glasgow) “I woke up with a blank mind. White dreaming and associated phenomena”

White dreaming is a term used in dream research to describe the feeling upon awakening that one had a dream but cannot remember its content. This feeling is said to be about a “white” dream, or a dream with content we are unable to access. The predominant view on dream research is that white dreams are forgotten dreams; one did indeed have a dream which now one cannot remember (Cohen, 1972; Lewis et al., 1966). This view finds support from experimental studies finding similar physiological markers between white dreaming and reports of contentful dreams (Siclari et al., 2013, 2017). However, alternative proposals suggest that white dreaming may represent sleep experiences with different types of conscious content, such as low-quality or reduced content (Fazekas et al., 2018), or very minimal content (see Windt et al., 2016). Given these different proposals, we might think that white dreaming describes a spectrum of experiences (see Windt, 2021). In this presentation, I accept the view of white dreaming as a heterogeneous construct that refers to different sleep experiences. Additionally, I propose an alternative explanation for white dreaming. It might be that some are not about any sleep experience at all, but a memory illusion. To that aim, I compare white dreaming to other similar waking experiences including feelings of knowing, feelings of familiarity, and mind blanking.   

Michael Sheehy (Virginia) “Perceptual Plasticity, Performative Simulation, and Kinesthetic Sense in Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga Practices”

Contemplatives in Tibet understood dreaming to be a powerful expressive domain in which novel and disparate worlds can be experienced, and from which new knowledge can emerge and new skills be cultivated. Buddhist practices of dream yoga (rmi lam rnal ‘byor) – or also, sleeping meditation (nyal bsgom) – consist of practical methods to learn how to lucidly perform specific contemplative practices while asleep. Such practices focus on the plasticity of perceptions, nonduality of awareness, fluidity of self and world boundaries, and are meant to extend insights achieved during dreaming into perceptual shifts during waking life. To better understand the underlying mechanisms operative in Tibetan dreaming practices, we translate and interpret excerpts from historical Tibetan dream yoga practice manuals from the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries in the Nyingma Seminal Heart tradition of Dzogchen and Shangpa tradition of the Six Teachings of Niguma. Specifically, we are concerned with discerning three discrete experiential dimensions prescribed in dream yoga instructions: (i) operations of perceptual plasticity; (ii) performative simulation and intentional applications of visual imagery; and (iii) how kinesthetic sense informs the dream body or what Tibetans call, the “mental body of dream” (rmi lam gyi yid lus). Special attention will be given to how these dimensions operate in dream yoga with reference to clear light (‘od gsal) states of deep sleep meditation. Each dimension will be brought into conversation with discourses and analogs in contemporary philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences about meta-awareness, imagination, reflexive awareness, and enhanced cognition and embodiment.

Melanie Rosen

Am I necessarily in the dream that my brain creates? Here I discuss the possibility that what we might call 'dreaming of being someone else' does not involve the waking self whatsoever. In a sense, 'I' am not someone else, rather, the protagonist of the dream just is not me, a 'vicarious protagonist'. From a psychology-based approach to the self, the disruption between some dream selves and the waking self might lead us to conclude that the dreaming brain creates short-lived, temporary entities, most of whom are forgotten.

Fiona Macpherson(Glasgow), “Perception in Dreams: A Guide for Dream Engineers, a Reflection on the Role of Memory in Sensory States, and a New Counterexample to Hume’s Account of the Imagination”

Ben Springett(Manchester), “What is the relationship between dreaming, sleeping and the unconscious?”

It is commonly thought that dreaming is reducible either to hallucination, imagination or both. In this paper, I briefly outline these standard accounts, catalogue their biases and shortcomings, and argue instead that dreaming is the direct awareness of the unconscious mind during the sleeping process. My account takes dreaming to be sui generis and thus irreducible to other mental states.   We tend to mistakenly categorise our dream experience (via recollection) as akin to states we are more familiar with during wakefulness, such as hallucination and imagination. Theorists, just like the everyday folk psychologist, are subject to biases pertaining to our inherently wakeful and conscious perspective. Furthermore, being active is a requirement of hallucinating and imagining but the standard accounts offer no explanation for how a sleeping individual could be active. There is also a lacuna for the standard accounts in explaining the commonly accepted idea that dreaming shares a special relation with the unconscious.   I provide evidence that dreaming is at least in closer contact with the unconscious and suggest that the sui generis account is the simplest solution. This makes better sense of the difficulty of recalling dreams, their bizarre content, requires no activity on the part of an individual and we avoid the biases inherent in the work of other theorists. We can infer that the relationship between dreaming and unconscious is much closer than typically thought and that this is a unique feature of the sleeping mind.  

Cecily Whiteley (Cambridge), “Searching for Natural Kinds of Sleep Experience”

A growing literature identifies and debates the ontological nature, neural correlates, and biological functions of dreams. Much of this research proceeds on the assumption that there is a single kind of phenomenon — namely, ‘dreaming’ — being investigated in dream science; a unified kind or state of consciousness obtaining during sleep to which it is appropriate to attribute a single set of neural correlates and biological functions. In this talk, I’ll motivate two claims. Firstly, that this natural kind assumption plays an active methodological role in the philosophy and science of dreaming which often goes unnoticed, shaping experimental design and orthodox interpretations of data. Second, that contra many dream researchers, this assumption is empirically unjustified: not only do the empirical arguments commonly appealed to in defense of this assumption fail to justify it, examination of these arguments reveals that the standard methodological framework in dream science is unreceptive to the sorts of empirical evidence which would ground its rejection. I argue that recognition of this calls for a fundamental revision to the way in which sleep experience is studied in philosophy and consciousness science. In opposition to the standard methodological approach– which proceeds by first motivating phenomenological definitions of dreaming which form the explanatory targets of research – I outline an alternative ‘natural kind’ approach to dream science drawn from recent philosophy of science. This opens up several new possibilities for the metaphysics and epistemology of dreaming – notably, that psychological terms like ‘dreaming’ or ‘sleep experience’ may not constitute natural kinds.

Qiantong Wu(National University of Singapore): “Dreaming experience as an immersive imagination: A Response to the Doubt on Dream Reports by Schwitzgebel”

In this paper, I will propose an interpretation of dreaming experiences as immersive imagination and respond to Schwitzgebel’s doubt on dream reports according to this interpretation. In particular, I will adopt an enactivist perspective to interpret dreaming experiences, pointing out a significant difference between dreaming and waking experiences in terms of the subjective perspective embedded in these two. Based on this interpretation, I will explain why dreams tend to be fragile and ambiguous and why dreaming subjects typically fail to be aware of the fact that they are dreaming. I will then propose a response to the doubt by Schwitzgebel, targeting his assumption that in dreams, there is a distinction between introspection and experience, and also propose an explanation of the empirical results in his studies demonstrating the illusive nature of dream reports.

Matthew Soteriou(KCL) “Dreams of being someone else”

Working from dream reports in established databanks, Rosen and Sutton (2013) consider various ways in which self-representation in dreams can be displaced, disrupted, or absent. They label one of the categories of dreams they discuss ‘vicarious dreams’. In these dreams, “the dreamer does not appear to figure at all, and the first person perspective on dream events is occupied by someone else…” (2013: 1041). In this talk I shall be focusing on a proposal about vicarious dreams that was once made by David Velleman (2008) (which he subsequently abandoned in Velleman 2015). According to this proposal, in a vicarious dream the dreaming subject is not representing herself. The first-person perspective in the dream isn’t a first-person perspective that the dreamer occupies. Moreover, it isn’t occupied by anyone at all. In such dreams, there is no self or subject at all, and dreamt-of uses of the first-person fail to refer to anyone or anything.   I shall be considering what it might take for this proposal to be the right account of self-representation in a dream, and I shall also be considering the following more general question: What is it that determines which individuals, times, and places feature in our dreams? I shall end by discussing the implications of the above for our understanding of the episodic recollection of dreams and for our understanding of the kind of self-representation that is involved in the process of emerging from a dream to wakeful consciousness.