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The Subreality Machine
in the Brain

A Most Remarkable Claim
In the last chapter we introduced a strange situation that
could arise in our universe, the Information-Limited Subreality.
But just because something is possible does not mean that it
really exists. Descartes' evil genius, the brain in the vat, and the
Star Trek episode are just fictional stories, scenarios that have
never actually occurred. Now we want to turn our attention to
something that does exist in our universe. The Inner Light
Theory makes a most remarkable claim, each of our minds is
trapped within an Information-Limited Subreality. Everything
that we perceive and experience has been created for us by
manipulating information. And the perpetrator of this act is
none other than our own brain.
This chapter examines three pieces of evidence for this
extraordinary assertion. First, we look at dreaming, our strange
ability to enter another reality as we sleep. Second, we discuss
a phenomenon called change blindness, and what it teaches us
about our waking consciousness. Third, we compare the three
realities that humans deal with, the physical universe, the dream
state, and our waking consciousness. Looking ahead, in the
next chapter we will examine how and why the brain creates
this Information-Limited Subreality, outlining the evolutionary
advantage of such neural activity.

The Lesson from Dreams
Look around and concentrate on what you experience.
Perhaps it is a warm summer day and you are sitting on an
outdoor patio. You see a deep blue sky and smell the fragrance

The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

of the flowers in bloom. Wind blowing through the branches of
a nearby tree provides a soothing melody. You feel the texture
of this book in your hands, and can still taste the last sip of your
beverage. Of course, your experience will be different; you
may be in a university library, at your desk at work, or relaxing
on the couch in your home. You may be smelling the fragrance
of flowers, the sweetness of newly baked cookies, or the
lingering odor of disinfectant. You undoubtedly will be
experiencing many things from your five senses, plus an
introspective view of your mind's operation. These are the
things you perceive, and are therefore the things that define
your reality.
But now imagine that you suddenly awake and realize it
was only a dream. The things you had been experiencing can
now be seen from an enlightened perspective. Before you
awoke, you justifiably believed that the sights and sounds you
experienced were genuine, originating in an external physical
universe. The tree, book, and patio seemed more that just your
perception of them; they were real objects with an independent
existence. Or so you thought. But now that you are awake you
have gained a greater knowledge, the knowledge that your
previous reality was not genuine. The things that you had been
perceiving exist only in your mind, and nowhere else.
The lesson here is extraordinary; the world of our dreams
is an Information-Limited Subreality. By far, this is the single
most important clue we have to unravel the nature of the mind.
In previous chapters we have discussed three other examples of
Information-Limited Subrealities, Descartes' evil genius, the
brain in the vat, and The Inner Light episode. However, none of
these three really exist; they are simply thought experiments
used to explore what may be possible. But dreams are different;
they do exist, and are a part of our daily lives.
To expand on this further, we will divide the functioning of
the brain into two general parts, the conscious and the
unconscious. The conscious portion is formed by those mental
activities that we are aware of, such as our thoughts, feelings,
Chapter 7: The Subreality Machine in the Brain 101

decisions, and control of our body movements. It is what we
perceive by introspection on a moment-by-moment basis. In
comparison, the unconscious portion consists of information
processing that we are not aware of, but must be occurring
somewhere within our brain. Of course, this is a very simplistic
way of dividing up our mental activity. Nevertheless, it does
match the general way we see ourselves from both introspection
and the world of science, and is sufficient for our present
As an example, consider what happens when you encounter
a picture of George Washington. Your conscious perception is
one of immediate recognition. There seems to be no effort
involved; the knowledge that "this is George Washington"
simply enters your mind. But this is very deceptive; massive
unconscious activity has taken place to carry out this task. For
instance, the visual image from each eye must be segmented
into regions of similar brightness, color, and texture. These
segments must then be identified as facial parts, then as a face,
and then as the face of the first American president. Of course,
nearly all of these individual steps are hidden from your
conscious examination; the end result simply appears in your
conscious mind without apparent effort or action.
In our day-to-day lives we take this unconscious mental
activity for granted. It is something we generally ignore unless
we have a reason to examine it more closely. For instance, we
might want to design a computer system that mimics its
operation, or develop a medical treatment to prevent its loss to
disease or injury. It is upon this closer examination that we
find out just how complex and extensive this unconscious
processing is. The unconscious is no less than the foundation
of our minds; it is what consciousness is built upon.
The point is, dreams teach us an immensely important
lesson about the interaction between the conscious and
unconscious portions of our mind. So important, it becomes our
fourth major teaching:
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

Major Teaching #4:
The Subreality Machine in the Brain
Our unconscious mental activity has the capability of
placing our conscious mental activity in an Information-
Limited Subreality. We know this for a fact; it is clearly
demonstrated to us each night as we dream. It is
undeniable that the machinery to accomplish this feat is
present in each and every human brain. The nature and
extent of this “subreality machine” remains for us to
determine; but one fact is indisputable, it is there.

The Realness of Dreams
Our next step is to examine how realistic dreams seem to
be, so that we can better understand the subreality machine
creating them. Are dreams a vivid and detailed reality, or just
a pale imitation of our wakening experience? Normal adults
dream several times each night; however, very few of the
episodes are remembered upon waking. It seems ironic that
most of us know so little about something that occupies almost
one-tenth of our entire lives. Do we dream in color? Can we feel
pain in our dreams? Can a dream really fool you into thinking
that you are awake?
Definitive answers to these questions come from Lucid
Dreams.1 This is the name given to dreams where the dreamer
realizes that he is dreaming. This may have happened to you.
For instance, you might witness something very strange or
impossible, such as being able to breathe under water, or having
Queen Victoria steal your clothes. You mumble to yourself,
this is weird, am I dreaming? Suddenly you realize that you are
dreaming, and that the reality you are experiencing is coming

1. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge and
Howard Rheingold, 1991, Ballantine Books, 335 pages. Excellent
overview of the topic, including tips for having lucid dreams.
Chapter 7: The Subreality Machine in the Brain 103

from within yourself, not from an external physical world. As
such, you are no longer bound by the physical laws of the
universe, nor the dictates of social and moral responsibility.
You might flap your arms and fly, run naked down main street,
or gun down your enemies without mercy. And none of it
matters in the least, because you know that it is only a dream.
You experience a level of freedom that simply cannot occur in
the waking world.
Lucid dreaming is a skill that can be learned, and some
experienced individuals can invoke them almost every night.
This makes lucid dreams a unique scientific tool for
understanding the nature of our minds. The dreamer can carry
out experiments within the dream, and report back his
subjective observations when awake. For instance, the lucid
dreamer might concentrate on distinguishing colors, recalling
memorized facts, performing tasks such as mathematical
calculations and reading, controlling the unfolding of events in
the dream, and so on. This provides us with highly reliable data
concerning the differences and similarities between our dream
and waking states.
Researchers have even developed a way for lucid dreamers
to communicate with the external world from within a dream.
When a lucid dreamer rapidly moves his eyes back and forth in
a dream, his physical eyes also move in this same manner. This
provides a way for the dreamer to signal those in the waking
world. For instance, it might be prearranged that the dreamer
will use this signal when he begins some specified activity in
the dream, such as reading or listening to music. When the
scientists monitoring the dreamer detects this signal, they can
study the corresponding neural activity occurring in the
dreamer's brain.
In one classic experiment, it was prearranged for the
dreamer to move his eyes back and forth once each second
when he realized that he was dreaming. In the laboratory, the
scientists watched the subject's physical eyes to see how fast
they moved. This was to test the possibility that dreams occur
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

at an accelerated rate, where hours or days in the dream world
might only require a few seconds or minutes in real life. The
result? The subject's physical eyes moved back and forth once
each second, showing that dream time occurs at the same rate as
in the wakening world.
Lucid dreams have provided science with a good
understanding of what we experience in the dream world. It is
clear that our mental capabilities are limited in some ways
during dreaming. For instance, the ability to use written
language is very impaired, as is the transfer of information from
short-term to long-term memory. It seems that some areas of
the brain really are asleep during our dreams. But what is most
important, dreams are as real to the dreamer as real life is to
those who are awake. The subreality machine inside our brains
creates a world that is nearly indistinguishable from our waking
Let's look at an example to make this more concrete, the
simple act of eating an apple for lunch. You see its bright red
color and feel its smoothness against your fingers. It smells
fruity; it crunches as you take a bite. The taste is sweet. You
enjoy the sensations; they bring you pleasure and fill you with
anticipation for the next bite. You think to yourself, "This is a
good apple."
After you finish your snack, you go about your day's
activities, and eventually fall asleep for the night. You begin to
dream, and within this inner reality you encounter an apple. You
see its bright red color and feel its smoothness against your
fingers. It smells fruity; it crunches as you take a bite. The taste
is sweet. You enjoy the sensations; they bring you pleasure and
fill you with anticipation for the next bite. You think to
yourself, "This is a good apple."
The point being, the introspective experience of the apple
is the same in the dream world as it is when we are awake.
However, in one case the experience is being generated by the
unconscious activity of the brain, while in the other case it is
derived from an external physical object. Of course, this kind
Chapter 7: The Subreality Machine in the Brain 105

of deception is possible in our universe, as shown by the brain
in the vat and other thought experiments. But just because
something is possible does not explain why is should actually
exist. Why should our brains have the capability to make us
perceive an apple, when we are really in bed fast asleep? What
possible purpose could this serve? Furthermore, how can the
apple of our dreams be such a precise match to the apple of our
waking world?

The Basic Premise of the Inner Light Theory
As we have shown, dreams are an Information-Limited
Subreality created by the unconscious mental activity of our
brains. This "subreality machine" is activated several times
each night, providing a conscious experience that is identical to
our waking world. The Inner Light theory takes this a step
farther, asserting that this "subreality machine" is also activated
during our waking hours, just as during our dreams. The
unconscious processes that create our dream reality, also create
our waking reality.
This is not to suggest that the external physical world is an
illusion. On the contrary, when we are awake and perceive an
apple, we have every reason to believe that the universe
contains such an object. However, we do not, and cannot,
experience the physical apple directly. The best we can do is to
capture clues about the object's nature. These clues come in the
form of light photons, sound waves, molecules of various
chemicals, and mechanical interactions. These are the physical
principles that underlie our five senses, resulting in neural
signals being sent to the brain. These indirect clues are all we
know about the physical universe, and the only things we can
know about it.
But of course, our conscious perception of an apple is
nothing like photons, sound waves, or neural activity. We see
an apple as red, feel it as smooth, and taste it as sweet. This is
our introspective experience, because this is the representation
that the subreality machine has created for us. Our unconscious
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

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