apolliana: (Mum)
[personal profile] apolliana
That the content of dreams might be nonconceptual is suggested by the regularity with which I remember them, but cannot describe them, even to myself. I find myself saying things like,

"It was a tree, but also a house; and you were there, but you were also Bill Clinton, and then you disappeared; and we were in a theme park, then airport, then country house in Italy, and everyone was naked and on drugs."


And invariably the description will seem to miss the experience. This happens with descriptions of ordinary experiences, too; but dreams even moreso because of the apparent inability of the scenery and characters in dreams of fitting into conceptual categories. There's no question that "it was a tree, but also a house" will fail to miss what it was like. The strange superimposition of things in dreams takes care of this. Places and people are often composites; and the way in which they are composited is difficult to describe. It's possible that some cognitive attitudes come in here: "knowing" the identity of someone in a dream, while in fact they look like someone else.

But perhaps we might want to say there are concepts in play, but they don't fit things properly because the relevant things are ambiguous and mutable. But such are my paradigm cases of nonconceptual content: the object in the dark room that looks suddenly too strange for recognition. In that case there is something you're looking at, but it does not immediately present itself to you as falling into a category smaller than 'something.' The content of the experience, phenomenologically, is an indeterminate object. In dreams it's a raging river of them.

But is "an indeterminate object" nonconceptual? Object individuation is partly involved; a thing can be discerned. Can it be distinguished from all other things? Only partly, as the perceiver doesn't know what it is. Is a thought about it Russellian? Yes; where there is no thing, there is no thought, regardless of the indeterminacy of the object. However, when the thing is perceived in proper lighting, the previous thoughts about it as indeterminate will lose their force.

Very often I decide the content of one of my dreams cannot be the content of a thought. I give up on describing it. I decide whatever it was doesn't suit the content of a thought; whatever the thought purports to be about is not the sort of thing to sustain the thought. There is no thought there. Perhaps the combination of fluid ambiguity and being past-tense (not something I'm presently looking at) renders the content of dreams less thought-apt than even the vague object in the dark. Perhaps this is because demonstratives don't work in dreams (or in past-tense accounts of them). We cannot use 'this', 'that', 'I', and 'here' where none of those work as they normally do. Demonstratives themselves are undermined in a world that cannot be still. Even if the properties that won't be still are conceptualizable properties, demonstratives--which do not seem to rely on concepts--rely at least on their stability, or on at least a backdrop of stability, so that if the object itself is not stable at least the environment is.

Do dreams have nonconceptual content? They have content, which is not apt to be the content of thoughts. But it is less apt to be the content of thoughts than the content of indeterminate experiences, as demonstratives don't quite work. And it is less apt to be the content of thoughts than non-indeterminate experiences, because the qualities of things that go along with their conceptualizable properties aren't stable. But the sense in which the contents of dreams cannot be contained in the contents of thoughts partly parallels the sense in which the same is true of non-ambiguous experience, of which the detail, the experience, cannot be conveyed. But in dreams there's nothing else. So many a dream-thought turns out not to have been a thought at all.
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