Have you ever woke up from a dream and then after a few minutes REALLY woke up from a dream? Most people who have experienced these sorts of ‘false awakenings' report an "eerie feeling" that accompanies the false awakening once they realize that they are dreaming. The eerie-ness is not surprising given that the experience undermines the belief we all usually have that we have direct contact with reality. It is certainly a shock to realize that you can be going about your day when in fact you are only dreaming.
The recent movie Inception used these sorts of false awakenings to good dramatic effect just because they are so emotionally eerie. But by far the best cinematic treatment of this theme was Richard Linklater's ‘The waking life'.
False awakenings have fueled skeptical philosophical reflections for centuries. If I can be utterly convinced that I am awake when in fact I am dreaming then it follows that my ability to know the REAL may not be completely reliable. The legendary Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu, 369-298 BCE) was said to have had a dream that he was flying around as a butterfly and then awoke to find that he was a man. But he had the eerie feeling upon awakening of not knowing whether he was a butterfly dreaming that he was a man or a man dreaming he was a butterfly.
What appears to contribute to the utterly convincing nature of the dream is that the dream associated with the false awakening often contains astonishing details from the dreamer's waking life and circumstances. Because the dream reproduces the daily circumstances of the dreamer with such remarkable detail the unsuspecting dreamer will then perform routine tasks in the dream typically done immediately in those circumstances. The performance of these routine tasks contributes to the illusion that one is awake. Despite the existence of these mundane themes in false awakenings the more interesting themes are less mundane.