Philosophy of Sleep

Sunday, March 17, 2019
First Aired: 
Sunday, June 12, 2016

What is it

"Blessed are the sleepy ones," writes Nietzsche, "for they shall soon drop off." Sleep is an extraordinarily, albeit profoundly odd, phenomenon, yet we seem to accept prolonged nightly blackouts without question. Still, sleep has played a major role in philosophical thought, with the likes of Aristotle, Locke, and Leibniz putting forth theories about just what exactly sleep and dreams are. So what is the purpose of sleeping and dreaming? How can we distinguish wakefulness from sleep, as Descartes wondered? Do we experience dreams consciously? And do we sleep to live, or live to sleep? Ken and guest co-host Jorah Danenberg stay up with Deirdre Barrett from the Harvard Medical School, author of The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Their Dreams for Creative Problem Solving.

Comments (1)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, March 15, 2019 -- 11:21 AM

Many interesting, and/or

Many interesting, and/or rhetorical questions in your tag. I do not know if it is accurate to characterize sleep as 'odd'---many living creatures,with or without what we call higher consciousness, require sleep, quality or duration thereof notwithstanding. Sleep deprivation is one popular form of torture, so I guess it is correct to say we sleep to live BETTER. Now, to the conscious aspect of the activity. Whether we sleep 'consciously' or 'unconsciously' is probably, for now, indeterminate. Some of us, I have discovered, can awaken ourselves from ridiculous or distasteful dreaming. I have been able to achieve this in the past, but, alas, not for several years. While able to do this strange feat, I asked others about it. The result: I was not the only one, at least as far as I was able to determine anecdotally. This suggests that, on some level, sleep IS conscious activity. Maybe there is inductive/deductive research backing this up, but I am not familiar with such.
There is much conjecture on and confusion about conscious vs. unconscious. One modern philosopher, who shall remain unnamed---since many of us know who he is anyway---went so far as to pooh pooh notions about unconscious mind. To wit, 'when you are out-of-it, you are out-of-it'---along the lines of being rendered unconscious by blunt force trauma or general anesthesia. Unconscious IS NOT dead--neither are 'vegetative' states: as a practical matter, though, they may as well be. Dreaming is the mind on vacation; recharging batteries; exercising-while-at-rest. There seems to be adequate proof that dreaming is a creative state. Some dreamers, just as some who are awake, are more creative than the rest of us. Use this on your show, if you like. I have put it in the public domain and written it nowhere else...

 
 

Deirdre Barrett, Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School

 
 

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