Today I would like to muse a little bit about a curious phenomenon of dreams which, somehow, I never happened to notice until just recently; which is kind of nice in a way, since it suggests that at my advanced age and stage of mental deterioration my dissolving brain can still, sometimes, find a blind acorn twice a day.
I suppose it goes without saying that these waters are too muddied and too deep for a shallow wader like me to sound, and I trust that the repeated disclaimers on this blog are thick enough that no one who stumbles across it will expect to find substantial answers to anything -- other, perhaps, than the question of just how much damage alcohol can to do a human brain.
But in case you've missed all my sleazy low-rent advertisements (like commercials for Euclid Avenue pawnbrokers broadcast by my local NBC affiliate during Soul Train at 2:00 on Sunday morning), let me say forthrightly here that I don't have any insight or knowledge at all on the nature of dreams: whether they're symbolic phone calls from our subconscious, or the data storage process of the jelly-based hard drive in our skulls, or both, or neither. In my ignorance I have no business speculating, and I know it.
But then again, in the grand scheme of the universe it is an irrelevancy either way. In a very few years nothing will be left of me but some corrupted meat tucked away out of sight and, perhaps, some memories -- mostly less than flattering ones, no doubt -- in the minds of a handful of people who will recall me less and less over time until I am forgotten completely. What will it matter, then, that I sat here scribbling tonight these nonsense pages to be sent forth into the unlistening ether?
But enough of this funereal mood! Divine Bacchus, the most unworthy of your servants beseeches you for the strength to break these sorrowful chains.
So (after a mere six paragraphs of blather) to return to this phenomenon of dreams. It is simply this: why is it, that when we see in a dream someone we know (a parent, a lover, a relative, a co-worker) or someplace we know (the house I grew up in, the house I am living in, my workplace) that, so very often, the person or place does not look anything at all like it actually looks in real life?
Surely our subconscious, or our inner hard drive, or whatever it is that manufactures our dreams, can accurately reconstruct the physical lineaments of our waking hours? In fact we know it can, because there are other times in our dreams when people and places look just like how they "really" are!
What determines, then, whether we get the 'waking reality' version of the object, or the 'dreaming freestyle' one?
One idea that has begun to interest me recently in my dabblings in the paranormal is multiplicity of truths: in other words, the idea that the different types of paranormal phenomena are not identical objects that spring from one single source, but different types of objects whose origins differ depending on the case.
For instance, when most laypeople like me (and even, apparently, some people who put a lot of time into studying these subjects) think of UFOs, we think of them as being mechanical vehicles from other planets, and that's what they are. Or else they're top secret military projects, and that's what they are. Or that ghosts are the spirits of the dead, period. Or demons trying to deceive us, period.
The more I have read and heard, the more I agree with those who think there is some degree of diversity in the paranormal, just as there is diversity in the animal kingdom, and in the plant kingdom, and among our own humble little species. So I find myself thinking that perhaps some UFOs are shadow government black ops, and some UFOs are mechanical extraterrestrial spacecraft, and some UFOs are manifestations of group consciousness, and some UFOs are as-yet-unclassified weather or electromagnetic phenomena, and some UFOs are extra-dimensional entities, and some, needless to say, are misidentifications or frauds.
Perhaps some ghosts are the spirits of the dead; others are imprints recorded on the environment; others are non-human entities of some sort (demons or otherwise); others are temporary chemical imbalances in the brain; and so on.
Alas, the paranormal is a slippery enough eel as it is, and muddying the waters with multiplicities only makes it harder to grapple with, which, no doubt, is why so many people prefer the simple, clean-cut explanations and are so reluctant to consider alternative possibilities. "I know ghosts are the spirits of the dead. Case closed!"
So I wonder if perhaps there aren't different types of dreams? Do we get the "lookalike" dreams from one source, and the "it's not at all like the real thing, but you know that's what it is" dreams from another? Perhaps some dreams are messages from our subconscious; some are data storage processes; some (since I am a woowoo and can believe anything) may be communications received from outside us; some may even be out-of-body experiences.
What purpose is there in giving me a dream in which the house I grew up in, that is apparently supposed to be the house I grew up in (since I recognize it as such in the dream), is laid out differently, and has different furniture and interior design, than the real-world house I really did grow up in? Or in showing me a person I know or have known, very intimately perhaps, and the person looks nothing at all like the real person or, indeed, like anybody else I know?
I fully accept the symbolic nature of dreams (or some dreams). Is there some kind of abstruse symbolic meaning in making an old boyfriend look slight, blond and fair instead of dark, sturdy, and Mediterranean, as he was? Or in putting the kitchen west of the living room instead of north of it? Or in painting the walls off-white instead of the "harvest gold" or "avocado" that covered every wall of the 1970s working class hovel I grew up in?
I've heard it stated by scientists that we dream in black and white. I've always had a hard time accepting this; many of my dreams do seem to have muted colors, it is true, as if seen under a cloudy sky; maybe they really were in black and white. But in other dreams it seems sure to me that there was color -- sometimes very vivid color, as in recent dreams of Cleveland on flame (which did not look much at all like Cleveland, even though it was, supposedly, Cleveland).
In any event, how do scientists know this to be true? Have they somehow managed to dissect the rods and cones in the mind's eye? Now researchers in Japan are claiming to have succeeded in pulling images out of the human brain, but this is a very recent discovery, whereas this assertion that we dream in monochrome has been around for a long time. Or did scientists, as they sometimes do, just declare it to be true to show they're smarter, as they used to declare that pets have no emotions and that silly unscientific pet-owners were simply applying subjective human interpretations to their pets' behavior?
And if it is true that we dream in monochrome -- what does it mean? What is the significance of the fact that the movie theater of our brains is still stuck somewhere in the 1940s, unlike our eyes that have upgraded to the glorious spectacle of technicolor?
Again I am forced to understand just how hopelessly out of my depth I am, and it is quite possible, probable even, that my ignorance makes me perceive sinister glooms and shadows in the sunny light of noon; but in the dull, untutored swamps of my peasant brain I cannot escape the feeling that no matter how you look at it -- and the more we learn about it -- there is something very strange, suggestive, and not altogether comforting about the nature of dreams.