Posted by: Scott | December 30, 2011

This so-called Reality

I had a strange dream the other night. That I had a strange dream is not unusual – nearly all my dreams are strange or surreal in some way – it’s just that on this occasion I made a conscious effort to remember what was unusual about it.

I’ll quickly summarize the plot: I need to retrieve binders from two different places and insert something into them, like a photograph or a news clipping. What’s unusual here is that at each place I go to I meet someone who in my real life I’m familiar with. I know what they look like, and what their voice sounds like, and yet in the dream they look and sound somewhat different, taking on characteristics that belong to other people I know. At the first place in particular, I meet and recognize a woman whose face and voice I know really well. I’ll call her “Paula” (not her real name). At least she looks and sounds like the Paula that I’m familiar with. But here’s the thing: Paula also looks and sounds like “Jane” (not her real name either), my philosophy professor from my community college, who, incidentally, looks and sounds like what an older version of Paula might look like. However, Paula in my dream also reminds me of an unrequited crush I pined after in high school. An unrequited crush who looked neither like Paula nor like Jane! Confused? Read on; I’ll (hopefully) make sense by the end of this post.

That I found or find each of these women attractive is not the point. I’m not looking for an analysis of my notions of potential mates. The reason I bring this up is that in dreams (or at least in my dreams), no person or place, however familiar, looks exactly as they do in real life. The woman I meet in my dream I identify as “Paula”. And yet Paula is also “Jane” the philosophy prof, and she is also that unrequited crush from high school!

And it isn’t just people I dream of this way, but buildings and streetscapes, too. Places and things I’ve known all my life I recognize in my dreams as familiar, even when in those dreams they look wildly different, taking on characteristics they’ve never had. Am I projecting some personal notion of what may be with ‘reality’? I guess that’s possible with places or things, but with people, too? And why do the details change, when I know exactly how these people and things appear in ‘real life’?

Surely, I can’t be the only person who dreams like this!

You’ve probably noticed the single quotes I’ve put around ‘reality’ and ‘real life’. That’s because I’ve started to wonder if my dream-distorted perception of reality might also be how an impressionist painter, for instance, sees the world on a regular basis. (And no, I don’t paint, or sculpt, or make music.) In a movie that I remember, one character describes impressionism to another:

“It’s not about how you see the world. It’s how the artist sees it.”

Perhaps artists perceive multiple expressions of ‘reality’. Maybe they live with a kind of doorway in their brains to a parallel universe – one just as real as ours – where what would appear to the rest of us to be a distorted expression of reality is in fact the reality: our world, as it actually exists in that parallel universe. One where our notion of the colour ‘blue’, for instance, is to that other universe its notion of ‘red’, or ‘green’. Crazy? Well…

Recently, a special series of “Nova” episodes on PBS have focused on how our present, established notions of time and space are being challenged by new scientific discoveries. Physicists are starting to wonder if maybe time – past, present and future as we think we know it – is merely an illusion to compensate in our brains for otherwise simultaneous events. And that maybe our universe is only one of many, where other possible expressions of our ‘reality’ exist. Science fiction writers have posited these notions for decades, and maybe their hunches were right all along!

And so from my dream arise the following questions: could this alternative-universe expression of our ‘reality’ be the reservoir from which the Picasso’s, Godin’s, Bradbury’s, Verne’s and Rowling’s of the world draw their inspiration? What kinds of higher lessons about our ‘reality’ could be learned from looking through an artist’s doorway into that other ‘reality’? And perhaps most importantly, how do you test a hypothesis like this?

I just love it when my dreams cause me to have mind-fucks like this!



  1. Maybe your ‘mind-fuck’, as you call it, has a merely terrestrial source. As in, what did you eat/drink/inhale the night before your dream?

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