Just yesterday I read how Tyrion tries to figure out if he's sleeping by pinching himself. And this seems to be a commonly held truth which often comes back in tales.

But I'm not so certain. So can you tell if you're dreaming by pinching yourself? Are there any other tricks to figure out if you're dreaming or awake?

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    Anecdotal: if you don't know whether or not you're dreaming, it is because you are dreaming but the thought haven't struck you. Once you realize that you're dreaming (a phenomenon called lucid dream), it's very obvious: you'll note how everything is incoherent and lacking in detail. When sleeping, you will most likely be in sleep paralysis, and sometimes you can pick that up as a tell as well. I don't know that anybody has ever honestly entertained the idea that they might be dreaming, when they weren't, save, perhaps, for hallucinations, in which case I don't see how a pinch would help. Aug 10, 2011 at 7:26
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    Negative, from personal experience. I recently had a dream wherein I wondered if I was dreaming. I did the pinch and concluded I was awake. Some time thereafter, I woke up... :-) Aug 10, 2011 at 13:58
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    From my experience with lucid dreaming I would say that yes in theory you could, in practice it's not a good method. When asleep your brain accept strange things easily, and will convince you that there is nothing unusual about not feeling pain when you pinch yourself. In addition, by the time you're lucid enough to control your dream and pinch yourself you already have already done the hard part of gaining lucidity. After that all you need to do is confirm what you already figured out, which is easier done by doing something you know you can't do while awake, like flying.
    – dsollen
    Jul 15, 2015 at 16:20
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    I have a trick I use to tell if I'm in a dream: I'll take off my shirt, and then if I'm still wearing the shirt, I'm dreaming. However, there have been times when I've tried this, noted I was still wearing a shirt, and then thought to myself "strange, that usually only happens when I'm dreaming." Dream logic took for granted that I was awake, even when presented with contrary evidence. Jun 2, 2017 at 20:07
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    @DaaaahWhoosh So... what happens if you aren't dreaming? "Congratulations, Mr/Ms Whoosh, you are clearly the best candidate, so we are prepared to offer you the job right now. Wait, why are you taking off your shirt?" Jun 2, 2017 at 22:42

1 Answer 1



According to A Cartesian Introduction to Philosophy (1986):

This shows, by the way, why it's so pointless for you to pinch yourself to see if you're awake. You may dream that you are pinching yourself, and you may dream that you are finding yourself to be awake. Of course, if you are just dreaming that you are doing this, you are mistaken. In light of these considerations, it would appear that Descartes' suggestion may be right. Perhaps there is no criterion by which I can determine whether or not I am awake.

See also Philosophy: An Introduction (1964) for a similar analysis.

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    Sure, we can conjecture that we can dream we are feeling pinching pain. We can conjecture that we can dream that we can read lucid sentences on a page. In practice, I can't ever recall dreaming about being in physical pain (Fear, discomfort and disablement? Yes. Pain? No.), and I can tell I am in a dream when I try to read words, and the words dance about without forming sentences. (I imagine there are physiological reasons for these limitations, but that is just more conjecture.) On Skeptics.SE, empirical data beats philosophical conjecturing.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 1, 2017 at 8:21
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    @Oddthinking Annecdotal but I remember once while dreaming that I was reading a book out loud. And while in dream state the sentence made sense. But after waking still with the sentence in my head, it was just jibberish words pasted after each other.
    – Lyrion
    Jul 3, 2017 at 12:22
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    @Oddthinking I have experienced physical pain in dreams. Usually, maybe always, a body part starts hurting while sleeping, then in the dream somebody is doing something bad to that body part, and when I wake up that body part is really hurting.
    – DavePhD
    Jul 3, 2017 at 13:41
  • @Oddthinking and apparently we have a separate question for that: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/2278/…
    – DavePhD
    Jul 3, 2017 at 13:42
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    -1: This is not a scientifically-grounded answer. There is an entire recreational community founded on the notion that you can semi-reliably tell whether you are dreaming. Maybe they're all massively mistaken, but a good answer would cite sleep studies and other empirical evidence to confirm or refute that claim rather than some philosopher's blind assertion to the contrary.
    – Kevin
    Nov 5, 2017 at 0:22

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