Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dreams


As I have written previously (see 8/30/09), on many mornings I partially wake up and allow “seeds” of ideas to “germinate” in my head. But it doesn’t work that way every morning. Today, for example, I was busily dreaming right through the time when I usually start to get into that “half awake, half asleep” state that I think of as my period of communication with my Muse. (The Greeks had a really odd and poetic way of putting things).
Anyway, it was one of those complicated dreams that is chock full of things that are contrary to common sense. In this dream I finally did as I have done before: even though I was deep in dreamland I realized that, “This is a dream. I must wake up.” But it didn’t work. Barbara was in the dream, and I finally told her (in the dream, of course) that I was dreaming, and asked her to poke me so that I would wake up. Which she did, but it didn’t help.
Finally I began to awaken, but in this in-between state, I thought that I was only dreaming that I was waking up, and that I was really still asleep. Weird, huh? I am happy to tell you that I eventually realized I was really awake, but I couldn’t help wondering what a dream is and what causes it.
Some people believe that a dream is a premonition – who has not heard of the person who dreamt that a loved one was in danger, only to wake up and hear that the dire event in the dream actually happened while the dreamer was asleep? Of course, that is a sample of one – hardly enough to come to any firm conclusion regarding the premonitory power of dreams. We never hear about the thousands of dreams depicting loved ones in danger, and low and behold, the drastic event doesn’t happen. To get one prediction right out of thousands of dreams brings the whole idea to the level of a coincidence.
And I believe that is exactly what it is – a coincidence. So-called seers have either had a few lucky guesses, or have made their predictions so vague that they could apply to almost anything. There has never been, and I doubt there ever will be – a bona fide, specific prediction of the future.
Of course, it is possible to make broad forecasts based on current trends, e.g. one may use the current trend of the Dow- Jones Industrial Average to forecast that the stock market will be 10% higher by the end of the year (don’t I wish?). But if it were possible to actually make a specific prediction, nobody would ever win the lottery except fortune tellers.
Alfred North Whitehead, a 20th century philosopher, has said that no understanding of the universe is complete unless it explains dreams. The astronomer and writer, Carl Sagan, has ventured an explanation which I think makes sense. During sleep, the brain attempts to classify and store the sensations that it experienced while it was awake. A dream is merely the subconscious awareness of the brain’s activity as it attempts to file these sensations for future reference. It is a marvelous achievement, but it is perfectly natural.

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