, Volume 195, Issue 6, pp 2577–2625 | Cite as

Predictive brains, dreaming selves, sleeping bodies: how the analysis of dream movement can inform a theory of self- and world-simulation in dreams

  • Jennifer M. Windt
S.I. : Predictive Brains


In this paper, I discuss the relationship between bodily experiences in dreams and the sleeping, physical body. I question the popular view that dreaming is a naturally and frequently occurring real-world example of cranial envatment. This view states that dreams are functionally disembodied states: in a majority of dreams, phenomenal experience, including the phenomenology of embodied selfhood, unfolds completely independently of external and peripheral stimuli and outward movement. I advance an alternative and more empirically plausible view of dreams as weakly phenomenally-functionally embodied states. The view predicts that bodily experiences in dreams can be placed on a continuum with bodily illusions in wakefulness. It also acknowledges that there is a high degree of variation across dreams and different sleep stages in the degree of causal coupling between dream imagery, sensory input, and outward motor activity. Furthermore, I use the example of movement sensations in dreams and their relation to outward muscular activity to develop a predictive processing account. I propose that movement sensations in dreams are associated with a basic and developmentally early kind of bodily self-sampling. This account, which affords a central role to active inference, can then be broadened to explain other aspects of self- and world-simulation in dreams. Dreams are world-simulations centered on the self, and important aspects of both self- and world-simulation in dreams are closely linked to bodily self-sampling, including muscular activity, illusory own-body perception, and vestibular orienting in sleep. This is consistent with cognitive accounts of dream generation, in which long-term beliefs and expectations, as well as waking concerns and memories play an important role. What I add to this picture is an emphasis on the real-body basis of dream imagery. This offers a novel perspective on the formation of dream imagery and suggests new lines of research.


Dreaming Sleep behavior Bodily experience Self-consciousness Predictive processing Full-body illusions 



I wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their extremely thorough comments and helpful suggestions. I am grateful to Melanie Rosen for some great discussions and for raising important questions about the dream body at the 2017 Pacific APA meeting in Seattle. And I would like to thank Jesse Buck for valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia

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