We know we can’t always trust our perceptions of the reality that surrounds us, but you’d think we’d at least be able to accurately perceive our inner reality. Not so, according to a philosophy professor who contends recall of our dreams is influenced by the mass media. While the information for this post is a couple of years old, I still want to mention it because it’s of interest to anyone who is curious about how we perceive the world, inner as well as outer.
In a paper entitled “Why Did We Think We Dreamed in Black and White?” University of California philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel documented many instances in the 1950s when people said their dreams were only black and white. However, other notable testimony going back into history and since the 50s points to dreams being in color.
Media Influences Perception
So why did people think they dreamed in black and white? Schwitzgebel says it was because the visual media of the 1950s ~ films and early television ~ were in black and white, which influenced people’s recall.
"If our opinions about basic features of our dreams can change with changes in technology, it seems to follow that our knowledge of our own dreams is much less secure than we might at first have thought it to be," he said.
Schwitzgebel bases his theory on reports of dreams through history and how people describe the look of their dreams. From the dream studies of Descartes and Freud to modern surveys on dreams through America Online, it appears that our perception has changed over time.
Other Experiences Also Suspect
"I’m interested in our knowledge of our own conscious experience," Schwitzgebel told ScienceDaily. " I advocate the view that we don't know our own experiences nearly as well as we think we do. I have advocated this position not only for dreams, but also for auditory experience and for visual imagery."
He said images seen in peripheral vision are often inaccurate, because our best information comes from what is directly in our focus, a rather narrow band spot directly in front of our eyes. We are also picking up clues about our environment through hearing sound waves reflect off of objects, a bat-like "echolocation" that may be more common in humans than we usually acknowledge.