In most of our dreams we dream we’re somebody, we usually find ourselves in some situation or other, and it’s pretty likely that there are other characters in our dream. People we talk to and interact with. Sometimes they’re positive figures, and sometimes they’re antagonists. But have you ever stop to think “who are these people?”
Well, if we assume that the dreams happen entirely in our heads then the answer is easy: those people are you (or me, or whoever the hypothetical dreamer we’re talking about is)! When you dream your dream is not only about solving a problem or facing a certain situation, it’s also about the other people in your dream, the environment in which everything happens, and how these overlay with each other. All of them are as much you as you yourself are.
That’s pretty curious in my opinion. Your mind is building up this whole world for your dream, it’s simulating different people, as well as you the protagonist, but you yourself are only seeing through the eyes of one of these, and not the others (which we could say is a behavior inherited from our waking life). Moreover, I’m sure we’ve all had many situation where the thoughts of one of our dream people are hidden from us, sometimes in a malicious way.
Now, I may be ascribing too much agency to these dream beings. It might be that your brain just simulates them reactively, where they do something in response to something else that you do. Shells with no real inner life. That would make sense and it would also explain why things are hidden at the time because your brain still hasn’t come up with them yet. So we could say that the dream itself is like a picture that slowly resolves itself, from a low resolution blob to a detailed photograph, or a game of Go that goes from an empty board to a beautiful set of patterns.
Anyway, for the sake of the argument let’s suppose that there is some hidden state that these beings possess inside your dream. It might not be any complex internal life like we experience for ourselves in the waking world, but I would say it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that your brain ascribes to them certain goals and basic personality traits that are not immediately observable from our dreaming point of view. This would mean that our brain knows all the details but our dream persona/protagonist doesn’t have access to them. If we twist this a bit we could say that dream beings are being managed by your subconscious, while your dream persona is your (semi) conscious. This seems to be inline with what we, or at least I, experience in my own dreams, where I’m frequently faced with a set of problems to solve, normally this involves interacting with other people and finding out what they want and need.
So, what we’re considering is that our brain is coming up with stuff as it goes along and doesn’t really know anything a-priori except for the fact that it subconsciously associates certain goals and traits with certain characters, and that our dream persona (our semi-conscious mind) is unable to access these details.
It’s like a game of hide and seek. Both them and you are you, but you don’t know it.
As a side point: if this is what actually happens in our dreams then I’m pretty sure it also happens in our waking life where we associate certain subconscious elements to people, places, and events. These will inevitably change our perception of them, how we interact with them, and how we expect them to respond to our interactions.
We tend to identify with our dream persona, and perceive everyone else as the other, external from ourselves. But I wonder, what would happen if we realized everything in our dream (including the environment in which it happens) is us, a reflection of our own mind? Would the dream cease to be, having lost its momentum? How hard would it even be for someone to (semi)consciously realize this?
It reminds me of the frequently-thrown-around phrase We are all one. Now the discussion could get too metaphysical, but it’s an interesting point to consider: is waking life similar to dreams in that we’re all really one thing? Although the level of complexity is much higher here since we all have complex internal lives (unless you abscribe to the unescapable theory of solipsism ). But is it wrong to say, for instance, that we’re all The Universe being expressed in different ways, different patterns?
We humans like to think ourselves different from the earth, space, planets, galaxies, cosmic radiation, quantum foam, etc. And in some sense, at some level of perception, we’re different. But when considered as a whole we’re neither different nor the same, we’re it, as much as the grass and my thoughts, desires, dreams and the dream folk in them.
The universe in a drop of water, in the universe, in a drop, in the universe, … Being one and the same
If you found this post interesting, check out this other post which talks about a similar concept “fake memories during the hypnagogic state” .
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