Knowing what separates wakeful reality from dream states seems rather simple on its surface. After all, even if a dream feels quite real in the moment, it’s unbound from continuity and the natural laws of our (presumed) waking lives. Yet proving that you’re awake, rather than just intuiting it, has been a perilous task for philosophers across the centuries. Beginning with the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou’s famed butterfly dream, this TED-Ed animation tackles how thinkers from Al-Ghazali in medieval Persia, to René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes in 17th-century France and England, to neuroscientists today have approached the question of whether we can ever truly know we’re awake.
History of ideas
Tantra is, and was, a subversive philosophy of feminine power
Ancient Greek sculptures were colourful. Why does the white marble ideal persist?
Thinkers and theories
Metaphysics and beyond – Martha Nussbaum on Aristotle’s indelible ideas
Dizzying discs and obscene wordplay – revisiting Marcel Duchamp’s 1926 film debut
Politics and government
Is mass media still ‘manufacturing consent’ in the internet age?
Stories and literature
Solaris and beyond – Stanisław Lem’s antidotes to the bores of American sci-fi
Philosophy of language
For Ludwig Wittgenstein, language is a game, but not a frivolous one
Grotesque imagery meets religious conservatism in Hieronymus Bosch’s art
Why a sculptor pivoted from gallery installations to big-box stores design