‘never any signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep’

by Bec Fary

“As if it were not a man who sleeps at night, and regularly has all the same experiences while asleep as madmen do when awake – indeed, sometimes even more improbable ones. How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of just such familiar events – that I am here in my dressing gown sitting by the fire – when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! Yet at the moment my eyes are certainly wide awake when I look at this piece of paper; I shake my head and it is not asleep; as I stretch out and feel my hand I do so deliberately, and I know   what I am doing. All this would not happen with such distinctness to someone asleep. Indeed! As if I did not remember other occasions when I have been tricked by exactly similar thoughts while asleep! As I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. The result is that I begin to feel dazed, and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep.”

Rene Descartes, from ‘Meditations’ 

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