I wake up late on a Sunday morning and lie in bed for a minute as I try to distinguish reality from the dream world I just left. Laughter and the sounds of cooking come from the kitchen. It seems unlikely the world will end on October 75. That’s not even a real date. And the clocks are ticking as they should, one second at a time, rather than getting faster and faster as I watch. As I do most mornings, before the details of the dream slip through my fingers, I make sure to take notes on what happened as well as my feelings during the dream and any other seemingly important symbols so I can look up the perceived meaning of them later.
When I was fostering a painfully shy cat from Second Chance who hid behind the stove whenever I was home, I dreamed she let me pet her. Recently I had a dream that the wort from my first homebrew turned into water instead of beer. In another, I was squatting in an abandoned house with an ex. I’ve dreamed about showing up in public without clothes on. About getting a tattoo I didn’t want. I’ve had dreams where my mom is alive again, warmly greeting me as I walk through the door.
Sometimes these dreams are so vivid I can’t immediately differentiate between what’s real and what visuals are simply caused by synapses being fired by my brain, linking some of my waking thoughts and sights together in a loose narrative. Sometimes even waking life doesn’t feel like it’s truly happening though. Am I completely aware of the realness of my existence? I could be nothing but a brain in a vat being poked and prodded by scientists to cause reactions that create every aspect of my “waking” life. Nothing is real and this entire world is just a figment of my imagination. (What a terrible, sad imagination.)
Philosopher René Descartes introduced this idea in the 1600s, but his vat with scientists was an evil demon that controlled the mind. Perhaps this demon or these scientists are causing me to dream right now before I wake up and enter the true real world where the fantastic is possible.
When I was younger, I had a reoccurring dream where I was swimming in a large pool. I dove all the way to the bottom, my lungs easily taking in oxygen from the water surrounding me, and entered a secret door which opened up to an even larger underwater chamber.
In another reoccurring dream, I flew over the city with a cape in the style of Super Mario World. As my subconscious self became familiar with this world I sometimes could control where I went.
If the average person spends a third of their lives asleep, at least we can rest easy knowing our brains are still exercising so they can remain in tip-top shape. Do these visions have any meaning? Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2017 suggests those who experience REM sleep and dream often may be better equipped to handle stressful situations, but is a dream a wish our heart makes as Cinderella would have so many of us believe?
Founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud introduced one of the first popular ideas about the meaning dreams may hold. He believed the symbolism in our dreams reflected our deepest desires, namely those of a sexual nature. But then again, it’s more likely humans are just doing what we do best, trying to decipher meaning out of the most meaningless occurrences.
There’s a word for that. Apophenia. The term was coined by German neurologist Klaus Conrad to describe the tendency of schizophrenia patients to see sinister patterns during psychosis. Now, it’s accepted to simply describe the human tendency to find any sort of patterns in unrelated events. One of my friends believes that seeing items from your past or having a specific topic organically come up in different conversations are signs your life is on the right track.
If I were to take my dreams literally and believe they offered any indication of where I’m headed, I’d have to prepare for the end of the world while a secret door in the house I live in leads to a claustrophobic staircase of doom and I’m having dinner with people I’d rather not interact with. But I’ll just enjoy the nighttime entertainment for now.