How does sleepwalking make sense on a philosophical level?

I find sleepwalking to be utterly perplexing. In order for an object to move, it has to be willed to move. My arms won’t move unless I will them to move.

But during sleepwalking, we are able to move without willfully doing it. We are unconscious, yet our body is still moving.

How is it possible for a non-conscious thing to move?

The inhibitors that normally mostly paralyze a person’s limbs during sleep occasionally don’t work for some people. If our limbs weren’t mostly paralyzed we would be doing all sorts of stuff during sleep all of the time.

It’s not a philosophical question. Lots of non-conscious things move. Lava. Water. Dust blown by the wind. The sun. The earth. The moon. You just need a force.

Your body does all sorts of non-conscious movements. Your heart. The smooth muscles lining the digestive tract.


Does it? I think a lot of living and nonliving things move without a “will” to do so. I don’t know much about how sleepwalking works physically, but I don’t really see the issue philosophically speaking.

What moves those things though? Do they move themselves?

Why is water able to move, but not a rock?

Sleep walking takes more than force tho, because it also involves motor controls, etc. Not like water running downhill but rather like something that otherwise needs direct, willful control. The mind is somehow still in control, but not conscious of it, and not making decisions based on reality but instead based on the contents of a dream state.

Rocks move all the time.

On their own?

Nothing moves on its own, including things that are conscious. There needs to be a force. If a limb is paralyzed, there is no movement. Also, you can’t consciously make an object float through the air just by wiling it.

My wife used to sleepwalk frequently, but it almost entirely stopped after she became a mother.

When I was a kid, the first time I really experienced sleepwalking (that I am aware of) was seeing my grandmother do it. It was really weird.

You are assuming that the brain has one process which is either on or off. It is much more complicated than that. Parts of the brain continue to work and think while we are asleep. Sometimes I do my best thinking while I am asleep. Seriously!

My heart beats without my will.

Sleepwalking occurs because of subconscious thoughts and dreams.


Your body does lots of things you don’t will it to do, such as your heart beating. It also does lots of things you’d, given the choice, probably will it not to do, like turning that cheesecake into fat cells. It’s a rather complex set of interacting systems and so you get some weird results sometimes. Honestly if you find this perplexing (and if you enjoy being perplexed by quirks of the human body) check out the split brain behavior experiments. People who have this condition (could be trauma or in some extreme cases epilepsy treatment) will often display what appears to be two separate wills, for example with one hand trying to pull a pair of pants on and the other hand trying to take them off.

Plants move, and I don’t think plants have a will

Normally in a dream state we are also in a sleep induced paralytic state. If that does not occur for whatever reason, our brains still tell the nerves what to signal to the muscles…so we might do something less dramatic like flail around a bit in bed, or talk, or more dramatically walk or even, as some people on Ambien have done, drive! All that has happened is that the brain has not stopped sending signals through the motor nerves to the muscles. We are not always that concious even fully awake of our movement: I may think I will get up and go to the kitchen, but of course do not think at all about the mechanics or where to place a foot, etc. So if I dream about going to the kitchen, my brain can direct my muscles without my full awareness. Biological, not.philosophical.

I was a sleep walker as a child and still talk in my sleep. My son talks in his sleep also. As a kid I once thought I was in a swim meet while asleep and was flailing and kicking, per Mom.

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