In 'A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness', O’Regan and Noe (O&N) consider an argument from dreaming in opposition to a sensorimotor account of consciousness. According to O&N the dreaming argument says that the nature of dreaming suggests that it pulls on mental representations of the outside world; these images we see in our dreams are like ‘pictures in our heads’ and therefore must be brain-based representations of the outside world. They counter this by saying that just because it seems that we’re seeing an internal picture, this does not mean that the brain actually contains these pictures, and further argue that the fact that are dreams are so disorganized is due to the lack of external stimulus to ‘hold an experienced world steady’. They suppose the ‘pictures in the head’ idea may be an ill-founded phenomenological claim.
But in my own experience dreams do not occur to me as ‘pictures in the head’. Is this really how everyday people experience their dreams and imagining? I wonder if O’Regan and Noe are the ones making ill-founded phenomenological claims. In the same article, Revonsuo replies to O&N’s commentary on dreaming by saying it seems the brain might be perfectly capable of producing the feeling of “being-in-the-world” in dreams, as opposed to pictures. People have very rich experiences in dreams in which they are a subject engaging in a world.
This idea reminds me of Damasio’s “as-if loops”. Damasio thinks that for the most part, embodied feeling is integral to emotion. Yet he suggests that sometimes the brain can bypass the body by creating an “as if” loop; an event in the brain that produces a phenomenological experience of emotion as if feelings were occurring without anything extraordinary happening somatically. Could it be the similar for dreaming? In a dream we can experience ourselves as a subject as if we were in the world. Revonsuo seems to think this is so, and if it is the case, it might be troublesome for the case O&N try to build in their paper. [Damasio also uses as-if loops to suggest why people with locked-in syndrome report experiencing emotion. Locked-in syndrome perhaps poses even bigger problems for O&N's account. For discussion see this paper.]