by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
PROMPT January 15th
Write about dreaming. Do they ever mean anything, or are they all meaningless? Why are they sometimes scary, emotional, silly, or prophetic? Have you had a memorable dream recently?
At the risk of slipping on a stray philosophy peel, "meaning" is highly subjective, and dreams can only have the meaning we ascribe to them.
Long-time readers might know that I've discussed dreaming in here before. I got interested in the science of it (which is called oneirology) in trying to understand episodes of sleep paralysis.
Truth is, science can't tell us much, especially when it comes to subjective experiences. This or that part of the brain being used, certain chemicals expressed or suppressed, links to REM sleep, the technical aspects of how long a dream state lasts; those sorts of things can be studied.
My personal favorite hypothesis has to do with dreams serving to consolidate and file away memories, as well as being a means of emotional practice. Often dreams seem to be related to waking events, which makes the most sense because your brain doesn't stop working when you're asleep; it just does different stuff.
As for meaning, though... well, it's my considered opinion that "dream interpretation" books are, at best, crap; and at worst, utter bullshit. They do serve the purpose of making the authors' dreams come true, sometimes, so at least there's that. Yes, symbolism and metaphor are powerful things, but they tend to have very personal meanings. Like, if I saw a turkey vulture in a dream, it would mean something very different and far more positive than if someone else saw one in their dream. For instance. That is, if it meant anything at all, which I'd wonder about.
Nevertheless, thinking about these things can open up new connections in one's mind, and that's usually a good thing, especially for writers or artists. For instance, I've woken up before and realized that, in a dream, I made a pun. Yes, that's right... I pun even in my sleep. Lately, I've sometimes been dreaming in very simple French, which I take to mean that the lessons are starting to sink in.
So... "Why are they sometimes..."
Scary: Like I said up there, I think dreams can serve as emotional practice. Perhaps there's some evolutionary benefit to practicing responses to environmental threats; I don't know, because I despise evolutionary psychology hypotheses. In any event, I think maybe sometimes the body just needs to practice pumping out certain neurotransmitters. Does this serve to enhance or moderate one's anxiety? Eh. I don't know. To me, the only scary dreams are the ones where sleep paralysis is involved. That shit sucks.
Emotional: Processing the day's emotions, and preparing for possible future emotions? Makes as much sense to me as anything.
Silly: Humor and absurdity are essential parts of human life.
Prophetic: Couple of things going on here. First of all, we dream almost every night, and we have the cognitive ability to predict things that might happen in the future; consequently, it's not shocking that some of this predictive processing would go on even at night. And, second, even if that weren't happening, it would be far more odd if no dream were ever predictive in some way. I mean, I've been known to have dreams of nuclear bombs going off all across the horizon, and I really, really hope that those aren't prophetic. But I've also had dreams in which I got stuck in traffic behind, say, a blue Ford truck and behold, in the next few days I got stuck in traffic behind a blue Ford truck. Given how many blue Ford trucks there are and how often I (used to) drive, such a dream had a near 100% certainty of coming true at some point -- especially when we tend to remember the ones that come true way more than the ones that don't.
I don't really remember my dreams the way I used to. Mostly just brief impressions. Oddly, lately, a lot of these have involved me being completely aware of my surroundings -- but also being completely blind. Like, in the dream, other senses substitute for sight. Fear, prediction, or just my mind being silly? Who knows? I'm not going to worry about it, though, and the dreams are kind of interesting.
One thing I know with almost complete certainty, though: there's nothing supernatural involved. Just your brain firing away, doing what it does, maybe storing memories, maybe rebooting, maybe trying to make sense of the world or, contrariwise, reminding us that there is no sense and why not just embrace the absurdity?
And sometimes you get story ideas out of it, so enjoy it!