Dreams and Nested Simulations: The Solution to Inception
“In dreams we have the notion of dreams, which means reality has to exist”
Waaaaay before Christopher Nolan’s Inception and waaaaay before Descartes’ meditations on dreaming, Daoist philosophers speculated whether Zhuangzi was dreaming of a butterfly or it was a butterfly that was dreaming of being Zhuangzi. The nature of dreaming has always grasped the imagination of philosophers and lay people alike, because it fundamentally shakes the trust we put into our senses as the basis for our perception of reality.
Thus we pose the stereotypical question: “what if this is all a dream?!!”. This question is still relevant to this day not so much because of Inception, but because of contemporary Buddhism’s notions of existence being a sequence of vision until we get to Nirvana.
I contend there is an objective reality, even though we may not be certain we are in it at any given point in time.
Usually the argument against an objective reality relies upon the notion that our transition from the dream state into the waking life and from life to death is merely a step within a larger “fractal”. Essentially, existence is structured as a series of recursive dreams, but there is no end to the recursion.
However, if we do accept that reality is a fractal, then any observation we can make at our current level applies to the larger structure of existence since the overall pattern repeats each time. Essentially, if our dreams are black and white and our waking life is in color, this means that life and death and each transition would also have a similar contrast.
If macro-observations about the relationship between dreams and the waking life at this level reflect the relationship between different states of existence at all levels, this enables to say that, whether we are in a series of nested simulations or dreams-within-dreams, there is an “objective” reality from which the simulation or dream originates.
Specifically, the very definition of a simulation requires an original object that is simulated. Dreams in their own way are simulacra of our subjective realities: they are copies of our waking life distorted by our subconcious — imitations emerging from our memories and desires catalyzed by random thought processes.
Therefore, despite how recursive you think existence is, there is an end, and original reality from which the simulation and the dream take place. If even in our dreams we have a notion of reality, then no matter how many dreams deep we are in, there is always an undistorted version of our current state of existence. The sense of awakening one has from waking up from a dream within in a dream is very different than the sense of awakening one feels when waking from a dream into reality.
Long story short: all dreams have a reference to reality, much like all simulations have a reference to an original, therefore even if our current state of existence is a dream, there is an objective reality from which the dream emerged, no matter how many dreams away it is.