Why Did I Dream About the Dead Woman?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/15/22

A vivid emotional dream woke me. The dream was short, but it gave off an intensity. I was in a room, but I don’t think it was me. I was watching two men struggle with a dead woman trying to lay her body out straight. She wasn’t fat, but she was somewhat big, maybe tall, and around 160-170 pounds. There was a short man at her head and a taller man at her feet. I never saw their faces. The woman had died in a fetal position, tangled up in a quilt. The two men were lifting her up to stretch her out on her back. My impression was they were going to take her away, so maybe they were funeral people. I apologized to them for not helping, but I didn’t tell them I was afraid to get too close to the dead woman. I felt that strongly. I don’t know if we were related, but she was in her forties, much younger than me, but then who I was in the dream was younger too.

The woman was bald, and when they got on her back and arms folded on her chest, they stood up. The woman’s head then quickly sprouted short dark hair and she turned her head towards me and gave a beautiful smile. Shocked, I pointed exclaiming, “Look, she’s alive!” But when they looked down again, she was dead like before.

That was the end of my dream.

I’ve been reading books and watching documentaries about ancient Egypt and I wondered how ancient people would have interpreted this dream. Ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the underworld. All through history people have tried to make dreams meaningful. I wonder if this dream was supposed to be a message to me? I didn’t know the woman. And I’ve never believed in dream interpretation, yet I wondered why I dreamed this dream. Was it only my unconscious mind sorting information?

At 70, I’ve known a lot of people who are no longer with us. And since my body is obviously in decline, I don’t think I’ll be around for many more years. A dream about death seems important. When I woke up I wasn’t frightened. It wasn’t a nightmare. But I was puzzled.

Since I’m an atheist I don’t think we exist after death. But what if I’m wrong? Lately, there are been a lot of speculation about this universe being a simulation. What if I died and came to in another existence, and then realized I had been in some kind of virtual reality, wouldn’t that be weird? But then, what happens when I die in that reality?

I am amazed at my dreams for another reason. How does my brain generate images? Or construct stories? Often my dreams feel like productions equal to short movies. If I have a speech center of the brain, where is the movie studio center? What’s weird is I have that condition, aphantasia, that keeps me from visualizing imagery in my waking life. Yet, I have no trouble generating imagery in my sleep. I used to generate imagery when I was high, but that’s been half a century ago.

By the way, do we really see movies in our dreams? Sometimes I think dreams are a series of images, each one triggering an emotion, giving the illusion of movement.

I can easily understand how primitive people could believe what they did about dreams – they seem so real. The more I read about consciousness the more I believe my perceptions are very limited. And the more I read, the less I feel like I know anything.

I’m always amazed at people who are so confident in their beliefs. I’m sorry, but I assume you’re delusional. I know I am. The more I read, the more ways I’ve come across in which we fool ourselves. I guess you think I read too much.

Most of my dreams are about desperately searching for a bathroom and I wake up needing to pee. You may laugh at that, but isn’t it rather straightforward. Isn’t my unconscious mind just saying, “Wake up and go pee!” If it can be so direct about something so basic, what is my unconscious mind telling me when it shows me a smiling dead woman?

JWH

5 thoughts on “Why Did I Dream About the Dead Woman?”

  1. I enjoyed your latest post, as always, Jim! I find dreams fascinating. I often have vivid dreams about books, especially discovering SF (or occasionally other) books in bookstores or libraries. However, my dreams rarely have any actual SF content (space travel, time travel, etc.)
    Borges wrote several interesting essays, stories and poems involving dreams. He pointed out that dreams may have been our first aesthetic experience, before we had anything else. Dreaming is like watching a play in which we’re also the playwright and actors.
    FYI, there are (at least) two anthologies of SFF stories about dreams–The Night Fantastic, ed. Poul and Karen Anderson, and Perchance to Dream, ed. Damon Knight.

    1. I’ll have to look for those anthologies. But now that you mention it, there are two other science fiction books that deal with dreams, THE DREAM MASTER by Roger Zelazny and THE LATHE OF HEAVEN by Ursula K. Le Guin.

    2. Here are the table of contents to those two anthologies:

      THE NIGHT FANTASTIC:
      http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?95141

      9 • Introduction (The Night Fantastic) • essay by Karen Anderson and Poul Anderson
      12 • The Pathways of Desire • (1979) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin
      45 • Dream Done Green • (1974) • short story by Alan Dean Foster
      63 • Midnight by the Morphy Watch • (1974) • short story by Fritz Leiber
      85 • All on a Golden Afternoon • (1956) • novelette by Robert Bloch
      115 • The Helmet • (1973) • short story by Barry N. Malzberg
      120 • Dreams Are Sacred • (1948) • novelette by Peter Phillips
      147 • Dreaming Is a Private Thing • (1955) • short story by Isaac Asimov
      165 • The Monarch of Dreams • (1886) • short story by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
      183 • The Circle of Zero • (1936) • short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum
      204 • The Soft Predicament • (1969) • novelette by Brian W. Aldiss
      237 • Heartstop • (1974) • novelette by George Alec Effinger
      293 • The Detective of Dreams • (1980) • short story by Gene Wolfe
      314 • Jade Blue • (1971) • short story by Edward Bryant
      329 • Something Wild Is Loose • (1971) • novelette by Robert Silverberg
      367 • The Visitor • (1974) • short story by Poul Anderson

      PERCHANCE TO DREAM:
      http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?25874

      vii • Introduction (Perchance to Dream) • (1972) • essay by Damon Knight
      1 • A Friend to Alexander • (1942) • short story by James Thurber
      12 • The End of the Party • (1932) • short story by Graham Greene
      23 • Dream’s End • (1947) • short story by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore [as by Henry Kuttner]
      40 • An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge • (1890) • short story by Ambrose Bierce
      52 • Under the Knife • (1896) • short story by H. G. Wells
      68 • The Dream of a Ridiculous Man • (1972) • short story by Фёдор Достоевский? (trans. of Сон смешного человека? 1877) [as by Fyodor Dostoevsky]
      92 • The Brushwood Boy • (1895) • novelette by Rudyard Kipling
      130 • Lord Mountdrago • (1939) • novelette by W. Somerset Maugham
      158 • Mr. Arcularis • (1931) • novelette by Conrad Aiken
      181 • Interpretation of a Dream • (1951) • short story by John Collier
      189 • The Secret Songs • (1962) • short story by Fritz Leiber
      202 • The Circular Ruins • (1962) • short story by Jorge Luis Borges (trans. of Las ruinas circulares 1940)

      I don’t think there’s any overlap. The only story I’m sure I’ve read is “Dreams Are Sacred” by Peter Philips

  2. I find the idea of living in a simulation interesting and somewhat appealing, in that it would explain all the killings, wars, hatreds, prejudices and religious fanaticism. Like a computer game with bad and good guys. There has to be storylines to have the game have opposition and a flow. Somehow to me, that is comforting, rather than thinking people really are real and some are absolutely this evil and horrible.

    1. I don’t find the simulation theory comforting. There is too much suffering in this reality. Why would we choose to experience that? Then again, there are also a lot of other emotions to experience in this existence.

      If this reality is a game, then I expect I’m about as good playing it as I am at playing video games – which isn’t very good at all. In fact, after the Space Invaders and Pac-Man era, I could no longer even figure out how to play video games.

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