Have you ever felt so uncertain of everything you ever thought, did, or said that you aren’t even really clear if you even exist?

I have been thinking about this lately because on twitter, @allendh asked me (rephrased) “how do we know we are really here and the reality we see isn’t just our imagination?”

This reminds me of an old edgar allan poe poem I used to love, back in my “dark days” of being 13.

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Edgar Allan Poe

Before I go any further with my own exploration of this, I would love to hear what you all think?!
I look forward to your responses.


Add yours Comments – 86

  • Matthew

    on May 3, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I’ve always wondered whether we actually exist or not as a teenager. It always weighed heavily on me and could cause me to be upset. In the end everyone has their own theories and ideas of if we exist or not, but it’s more important to awknowlege and appreciate what we have in this reality. The best option is o enjoy your life and live it to the fullest and not to have negative affects on another individuals life

  • Vic

    on May 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Hi Allison 🙂 … To start off I’m going to say that I’m a man who constantly searches for answers… I’m a man with hunger for knowledge and if it were possible I’d like to know everything about everything… but it is not. Reality?… the toughest enemy of human intellect… that question you ask in this post… is a question I’ve been asking myself since I can remember. I’m a 21 year old engineer, I am not religious… so I do not seek answers in matters of spirituality, I’m a science guy… but there are things sciences are not able to explain… as so put by Albert Einstein: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
    So… how do we know what’s real and what’s not? What if we are wrong… When we so securely state to people with mental illnesses how what they perceive is wrong…and how we are right… what makes us right? Again…how do we know what’s real? I do not feel uncertain… but that doesn’t mean I do not leave some room for speculation… the famous “what if…” … “what if I’m wrong?…What is this but a dream within a dream? Maybe I’m just typing nonsense… but I want you to know… that if you feel the same way… you’re not alone 🙂 … but in the end… reality is what you make of it… you make your path in life a give it a meaning… because when you do… you will know that you’re on the REAL track 😉 …

    That’s all i have to say… hope it makes sense…

    Take care Allison…

    Your biggest fan… Vic

  • shinefloyd / luigi

    on May 3, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    why we need to be so complicated?
    look… it’s very simple : “cogito, ergo sum”.

    oohhh.. noooo…. it’s not simple!!!
    just I was thinking..””I’m pink, therefore I’m spam”….
    “René Descartes was a drunken f**t – I drink therefore I am”. LOL

    sorry… a little joke….

    Allison….I’d like to know about your cat “Bosley”…
    take care

  • Hammad

    on May 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Serenity. A quite contentment devoid of uneasiness. The point when fear has no hope of reaching hope.

  • Jade Ruby

    on May 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I saw this play, “Clean Drums” a couple of months ago. In it, the main character was drummer Joe Harris (a real life musician), who had conflicts about playing the new (then) free form jazz. It was so surreal that at one point, iirc, he tells a musician, “Wait, I can’t be imagining you!” And the musician replies, “No, that guy over there is imagining me!” I had to chuckle. I was thinking afterward, wouldn’t it have been cool if they had a blue spotlight on the areas of the stage where the imaginary musicians and characters were.

  • Geoff

    on May 3, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Hey Anthony. Wishing you didn’t exist is not indicative of a healthy mindset. I hope you feel better soon.

  • allendh

    on May 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    was just something that someone said to me once, taken me years off thinking and i still dont have an answer. asked a question never expected anything from it, thankyou for giving me the time to post the thought.

  • James

    on May 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I’m going to get religious on you for a minute, but the lady asked a question, and this is the only way I know to answer it. So if you think you’ll be offended, at least I let you know 😉

    The totality and assurance of existence is heavy stuff. For me it is my Christian faith that assures me of my existence, because it is faith in the Son of God that is the essential purpose for all human existence.

    Existence has a purpose. You may say “A ball is to be thrown, but it’s also just a round thing.” but I say to you that a ball may be a round thing, but it was also made, created to be thrown. If it had no purpose, it would not exist. The same goes for the trees that make the oxygen, the soil that provides nourishment for the trees and so on and so forth and down the line until you get to US. We have our purpose, the same as everything does. And that is how we know we exist. Purpose.

    Sorry again if I offended anyone. You were warned 🙂

  • Stephen

    on May 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Pinch yourself.

  • Jennifer

    on May 3, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Hey Allison

    That is a question I have asked myself several times.

    I’m very tired so I don’t have much to say about this. Maybe I’ll come back another day and post more.

    Take Care <3


    on May 3, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Hi Allison
    Today I was skiing for the last time this year and as I was alone I took the time to think about my life.
    In my work, I look for facts that prove some people make the willful blindness in the management of their business.
    Yesterday I was chatting with my neighbor to the economic crisis and how that could happen.
    It is as if reality had changed, people who currently hold 100% of the shares of General Motors , In one month they will hold 1%.
    How intelligent people and have made the largest Universities, paid several million dollars to administer the major banks and companies have made this disaster happen.
    My explanation is willful blindness. Then I realized that willful blindness is something that cut me from reality. I decide not to see what I see.
    The leaders of banks have said:
    At this time it works, everyone does it and we received bonies.
    If we refuse to follow, we lose our jobs.
    It was obvious that it did not make sense and that it would badly.
    I realized that I was doing the same thing in my life.
    I put first things with which I agree and I try to forget the others. I act like it did not exist. I walk away from reality.
    So, be aware to manage our willful blindness. You must be able to assume and accept their consequences.
    To believe in something like a religion or a person, I must make the willful blindness to the things for which I do not agree. The day I will not be able to agree to close the eyes, I cease to believe.
    The willful blindness is something that your cat and your dog does not. I am beginning to think that it is our conscience.
    I bought a helmet for skiing in December 2007. My willful blindness that I did not wear it even though I knew I had to wear. I started to wear following the tragic skiing accident the actress Natasha Richardson. The reality hit me in the face, I admit that what I refused to see was indeed real.
    People who have addictions to alcohol and tobacco are also the willful blindness.
    Our dear Chloe you beautifully interpreters is currently in a virtual reality because she refuses to consider certain aspects in her decision to go with Davis. She knows that this can end badly, hers friends tell her, lying to Clark hurts deeply but she accepts because the cause is too important for her.
    In returning from skiing, I swim for the first time in my pool and I took the opportunity to list all the willful blindness that I am in even realizing it. I found that it often makes my life more comfortable. Pretending a problem does not exist do not erase the problem.
    The willful blindness is a feature with which we must learn to live if we are to remain in the true Reality.
    Sorry for my english.


  • thomas

    on May 3, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Salvation is from the Lord.
    Bless you and all your loved ones.

  • thomas

    on May 3, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Wisdom invites all to her feast. Folly calls another way. Book of Proverbs chap 9

  • thomas

    on May 3, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    He that walketh sincerely, walketh confidently: but he that perverteth his ways, shall be manifest. Proverbs 10:9

  • toxiceye

    on May 4, 2009 at 12:41 am

    How do we prove that we exist?

    Maybe we don’t exist . . .

  • Silvia

    on May 4, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Hi Allison,

    Quote: “Have you ever felt so uncertain of everything you ever thought, did, or said that you aren’t even really clear if you even exist?”

    – No, because “cogito, ergo sum”…. “I think, therefore I am”. As long as I feel and think I do exist. To have doubts and to feel uncertain is human, but it’s not healthy if it makes you feel uncertain of your existence. Remind yourself who you are and that this is real. It is not healthy to stick to such doubts and uncertainty.

    Quote: “I have been thinking about this lately because on twitter, @allendh asked me (rephrased) “how do we know we are really here and the reality we see isn’t just our imagination?””

    – Goodness! How can they ask you such nonsense?! OK, philosophers usually love such questions; however, the answers lead to nowhere for those only create other questions like this. I used to discuss such things a few years ago, but then I grew up and realised that this is nonsense for it makes you just going round in the very same circle… It’s your choice to stick to this question… I wouldn’t if I were you.

    Take care,

  • Beth

    on May 4, 2009 at 1:30 am

    I’ve had very little sleep so my mind isn’t working today the way it usually does, so here goes…

    This is a tough question to answer and every time I try I only become more confused. I think about this kind of thing so rarely that when I do it’s actually frightening.

    My short answer is that no one really knows exactly what’s reality and what’s not, or why we’re here or what our purpose is in life. (i had a more in depth response but then i lost my internet connection and had to restart the computer and i forgot half of what i said before)

    I watched this movie years ago about this woman who was living in two different dream worlds and she didn’t know which was real and which wasn’t. She would wake up from one dream and fall asleep straight into the other. In one she had this perfect life, a great husband, kids and a good job. In the other she was facing a pretty pathetic existence. The whole movie was about her trying to figure out which one was real and which was just a dream. I spent the entire movie hoping the perfect life was the real one. It turned out that the other one was. It was an incredibly depressing ending.

    This reminds me of that ep of smallville, labrynth, where clark doesn’t know whether he’s superman or a mental patient. At least that story had a happy ending.

    Wow. I can’t get over how broad that question is…really makes me think…

  • Puffy

    on May 4, 2009 at 1:32 am

    “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    I think that most of what I experience is real, simply this life would be a pretty lame illusion. I mean, no super powers, no magic or anything… what a lame fantasy world.

    For me, I don’t tend to question if my world is real, but sometimes I feel like the world I cannot currently interact with doesnt exist. Like as I type this, there are billions of people around the world sleeping, moving, doing millions of different things in different homes and countries. The sheer extent of existence, emotion and activity just from humanity on this one planet blows my mind. The insignificance of being just one in the multi billion forms of life can be pretty bruising on the ego, so I do draw my focus back into the safe reality of my couch, my bed and the familiar walls around me.

  • anon.

    on May 4, 2009 at 4:54 am

    at risk of sounding arrogant…

    does it really matter if what we see/hear/feel/experience is “real”?

    personally, i dont think so.

    i mean… in the end, ultimately, anything that we do, we do for ourselves?

    hm i’m not being too clear.

    i guess, what i’m trying to say is that…

    the experience that is life, is perceived through all the senses available to us; whether or not any of what we undergo is “real”, or has actually “happened”, is not important. Merely because to the individual, in our respective minds, it HAS occurred.

    That is what is truly important.

  • Dream_Walker

    on May 4, 2009 at 7:02 am

    I think it all comes down to “i think – therefore i am” ideology. If we dont exist then we need to redefine meaning of “existing”. Everything we feel, experience and learn seem so real whos to say it isnt? If i dont exist i sure like this “none existent” life i have. Even dreams can feel so real, id like to think at some levels they are 😉 Havent You ever had Deja Vu waking up from dream that felt so unreal but in day or week later the situation wich u almost forgot presents to You and Youre like struck with Deja Vu – “ive been here or ive seen this happen, it feels like i already experienced it” Its like Matrix trilogy, if it all is just elaborate dream whos to say we have to fight it? Why not embrace it and make best of it as we like 😛 Just my thoughts, cheers on good topic Peace, DW

  • hobx

    on May 4, 2009 at 7:10 am

    As long as a system has consistent internal rules it would probably be almost impossible to tell without outside help. However….i’m more interested in the question of, does it matter? Would a make a difference if we were part of some simulation? Not to me….I wonder about others though…

  • Ruthie

    on May 4, 2009 at 8:11 am

    I read this post yesterday, but wasn’t in the right frame of mind to add to the discussion. I’m enjoying everyone’s comments, though. Fresh mind, new day…came back and read it again. Just what I needed to launch me back into the moment.

    Here’s where I’m at with this question right now. For all practical purposes, everything I experience is real for me. Of course, as has been said, we all experience the world through our own lenses…our senses, beliefs, education, etc. Obviously, there must be an ultimate Truth, a reality above our separateness. I have evolving ideas about this, leaning towards our connection with God, that ultimate Divine conciousness…in turn, our connection to all things. (others went more in depth here so I won’t).
    But for me, the important answer is the practical one…as some would say, “I am That.” What you are living this very moment…well, to put it simply, that is real. People all over the world are at the same time experiencing joy, hunger, laughter, contentment, suffering and grief. It is all real and it is all an opportunity to expand, to grow in our humanity, to recognize our connection, that we are not separate. I was born with a combination of hereditary traits that helped make up my body and personality. This is the ego I have to work with in this life…it is me, and yet my soul is not confined to this me-ness, I can transcend to that higher self, rise above. I want to look in front of me at this moment and recognize it as reality, examine my thoughts towards it…my perception of that reality defines whether I struggle with it or embrace it. I choose to embrace it…I have not reached a place of consistency on this point, still fall into the trap of suffering and unkindness towards myself, but even this question has been a reminder to come back.

    (A great book for anyone interested “A Thousand Names for Joy” by Byron Katie)

    “If God said,
    Rumi, pay homage to everything
    that has helped you enter my arms,”
    there would not be on experience of my life,
    not one thought, not one feeling,
    not any act, I would not bow to.”

    (In Love Poems from God. Translated by Daniel Ladinsky. New York: Penguin Compass, 2002)

  • David Hayes

    on May 4, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Andy Wartfrog, the ten foot tall toad that often assists me in writing my most rivetting posts here, says that everything we experience is real. And I dare not doubt anything he says. He can usually leap to some brilliant conclusion and, in most cases, when he responds to a philosophical issue, truer words have never been croaked.

  • Ruthie

    on May 4, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Point well taken David Hayes. 🙂 I suppose people who are hillucinatory for various reasons don’t have a grasp on reality. I’m pretty convinced that the substantial things around me are real…yes. Of course we name them chair, lamp, keyboard, toothpaste, play-doh…otherwise we might perhaps realize from time to time that it all is simply the same…a part of the whole.

    For a person who hallucinates, the experience is very real to them…you may not be able to convince them otherwise. It’s no different with any one who holds fast a belief they are unwilling to question.

    At any rate, even the different perspectives presented in the comments above are evidence of how we “project” our own reality.

    I think the original question was, are we real? My question would be, if we aren’t real, then what are we?

  • Ruthie

    on May 4, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Okay, so the original question was, “Do we exist?” Hmmn. Same question…if we don’t exist, then what does? Whatever the status of our existence, we are a part of something Real.

  • Gnome

    on May 4, 2009 at 10:57 am

    “Have you ever felt so uncertain of everything you ever thought, did, or said that you aren’t even really clear if you even exist?”

    I’m on that mood right now… Is like I’m watching everyone moving on and I’m still stucked at the same thought cause I refuse to believe that their path is the right one to be followed.

    Complicated, huh?

    Trying to be clearer…..
    It seem to have a magical, logical and invisible manual of “How to live your life correctly” by some anonymous author that claims that the natural order of life is: to be born, grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have children, get old and die.

    I’m more inclined to believe that there are much more in life than just a few steps to be followed.

    My problem starts when I come to realize that every single one around me, that seem to play by those “invisible” rules, seems to be achieving their goals in life while I still have that stupid sensation that Im stuck.

    I feel like I want to embrace the world, but my arms are too short, you know what I mean? I want to explore and do something greater, but I forget there are some blocks to put together before I can actually see my castle up.

    Or maybe I’m just bored, needing a shaking up. Maybe all my paranoia will fade away after a whole glass of Nuttela.

    The only thing I know for sure is that I’m totally unsure of who is “the right” and who is “the wrong” side in this play. I just want to know if I’m hero or villain in this story called “my life”.

  • Jodie

    on May 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I have thought about this often and now happens to be one of them times. It is quite strange because i am convinced sometimes that i actually am invisible or just a figment of someone that used to exist in either a past life or parallel universe. It still amazes me what the mind is capable of sometimes, unfortunately most of the time when we get into this mental state its hard to distinguish what it real and what isn’t. It can even go as far as to start to alter the subconscious mind to make you begin to believe it. It’s a scary thing believe me!!!

  • Phil

    on May 4, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I ponder this every day of my life. I think about life. When trying to figure out if god exists or if he is just for our pleasure. one cannot bring about the idea of life without wondering if we are certain we are here. Wondering if death is not a release but just an end. If once our bodies wither and decay if our “soul” is set free to roam the universe, or if indeed a soul is nothing but a mere shadowy thought, perhaps death is nothing but an end to our concienceness and all that we are, because in all reality. Maybe our thoughts are all we will ever accomplish. we may never be set free to the “heaven” we wish for or the “hell” we wish to never go. but what is worse then hell, what is worse then living in agony forever is, no longer being.

    one can never know if we are real, if everything we see isn’t just a mere setup by our mind to be what we want, if anything is real.

  • Karen

    on May 5, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Our perception of time and reality is so limited. As much as scientists boast they know in truth, they really only know a little because our universe is so vast. That’s part of why I believe in God, in Jesus, because even as hard as we try we will never fully understand it all. I believe that God is full of mystery and beauty and all I have to do is look up at the stars or a sunset to be reminded of that.

  • Kittenmittens

    on May 5, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Why does it matter if we exist or not? Would you be doing something differently? Personally I can’t comprehend how I would know I didn’t exist so the whole thing seems moot. If I’m still going to finish my tea, go to bed and wake up tomorrow then it’s fine either way.

    Now if I existed but the world around me was fake there’d be some changes – I’d will myself perfect skin and the power to be invisible. So far that’s not worked.

  • Scott123

    on May 6, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Ow! Ow! my head!

    I have a dvd called “the Animatrix”, which is a series of animated short films centered around the matrix. In one “kid’s story”, a boy tragically kills himself-only to “wake up” onboard the nebuchednezar with neo and trinity. However, midway through this particular story, the boy is on the net in some kind of chat room and asks the EXACT same question allendh was asking you. I think he was “animatrixing” you. 🙂
    Davinci said ” We can only know reality through the five senses by which we perceive it.”
    Finally a quote from a favorite book of mine.

    “My wife and I were in a small plane flying over the ocean. Just below the surface of the water, we could see lines of different color-all connected-and stretching out in all directions. In the back seat sat Pi, a lovely young woman who said to us, “The lines you see below are people.” My wife said, “That’s impossible! These lines go on forever! How many lives are there in the Universe!?” And Pi replied, “….One.” ”

    ONE by Richard Bach

    Your friend in the Deep End

  • Amanda N.

    on May 6, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I get what your saying here Allison.There are times when I say a word so many times that the meaning of it becomes lost to me.It’s sorta weird,but it has happen to me.Also when I start daydreaming there are moments when I’ll look in the mirror and wonder who I am ,and I am this person in this body and I have a life to live out,again weird.After a few minutes it’ll all come back to me,but for those few short minutes my existence is forgotten or questioned.I really like that poem you shared,it was lovely and it rymed.Yep I still love poems that ryme.Great post Allison,it was a really cool topic this time.

  • karloz

    on May 9, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    i think… we are our dreams, each one of our is a dream,

  • Edgar Gallucci

    on May 12, 2009 at 4:00 am

    hello allison….

    only now I am writing to you after a while, I had more with your blog because you were not posting … but now I came back … I hope you do not disappear again, because we miss you …

    beautiful poem by Edgar Poe!

  • Adam

    on June 25, 2009 at 2:05 am

    Truth is I can confound a dream with reality, within a dream. But I am not mistaking reality for dream, within reality. Otherwise I could do some crazy dangerous shit in reality with the perfect excuse ! I always thought this argument – famously developed by Descartes in one of his “Metaphysical meditations” was kind of fishy. In fact this kind of view paradoxicaly is very rationalist, I think. Because it wants to delimitate clear frontiers, like for example beetween reason and madness, reality and imagination. But on the contrary our perception of reality is constantly involving our minds, memories, emotions, etc. We could say in that sense that reality per se does not exist, because it’s always us that perceive it… And an act of reason may not be very far from an act of madness. In the same area of thoughts, if I think about reality and dream, what is obvious is that we always think about it from a non dreaming point. Well that is because I speak now from a non dreaming ( I mean the physiological act of dreaming, when asleep). We never consider this debate from within the dream perspective. Or maybe we are, but we are not communicaing with this part of us now… If we want to be serious, we would have to consider dreaming and being awake as two different worlds, like two hands that would never touch themselves…and as hands of course are also more in connection than ever… The french philosopher Derrida wrote a lot about those kind of paradoxes, I think the one in particular where he analyses dream and reality is called “Fichus” ( in French…) The other about descartes is actually inside a book called “L’écriture et la différance”. Welle enough about Derrida, I can never stop, and I’m the worst teacher concerning his works… or maybe anything I guess I’m just not a good teacher !

    I find this so nice that such a lovely and well known actress keep a site like this one. I had a feeling you were a nice person from seeing you in Smallville. Apparently I was right !

  • tn_tank

    on July 3, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    mmm… that’s pretty interesting, as a friend once told me is that we could be part of the matrix- where were living in a virtual world, everything may seem so real but it so not as it seems to be.
    But to me, I believe faith is the answer to everything… Thanks for sharing 🙂