To Doze, and To Dream

by James Wallace Harris, 10/28/22

“To sleep—perchance to dream” is what Shakespeare had Hamlet say, which suggests dreaming was an iffy affair back then. That used to be for me too, but lately, I’ve been dreaming my ass off. I’m afraid I’m not as eloquent as the bard but it conveys how close I am to that cauldron of the unconscious.

It is also true, I sleep more, but I sleep in patches. My overactive bladder never lets me stray too deeply into the dream world, so I believe my need for REM sleep has adapted. I now reach the dream world much faster than when I could sleep the night away.

All this dreaming lets me consciously observe my unconscious mind closer than I have ever done before. Dreams percolate up even during a bit of drowsy dropping off. They are so close it’s like watching ripples on a pond.

What disturbs me is at night, when I get my best sleep, and my bladder kindly lets me leave this world for as long as one or two hours, then when the need to pee does bring me awake, I’m able to recall dreams with plots. Normally, surface dreams are just the bubbling up of chaotic ideas and images. Often bizarre and unconnected, these dreams are what I expect dreams to be. But in deeper sleep, there seems to be another mind at work, an author of dreams. And that often provokes a Weird Tales kind of vibe. Who is the composer of my unconscious? Or is a bit of my conscious mind deep diving into my unconsciousness? Maybe the two states are starting to blend?

Lately, some of my dreams make me think this author dwelling in my deep mind wants to be a science fiction writer. When I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once the other day, I felt that screenwriter was kin to my dreamworld writer. The unconsciousness connects to the multiverse.

I’ve always assumed when I die I’ll reach a state of absolute nothingness. Now, I worry I might be thrown into the chaos of endless dreams. My scientific thinking conscious mind doubts that, but as the conscious world becomes more chaotic itself, it’s easier to wonder about such possibilities.

I used to think humans were mainly rational beings. Recent years have taught me differently. I still believe we dwell in an objective reality that we subjectively observe. But I now doubt how well our conscious minds can map that external reality. I assume the unconscious mind is like an iceberg, with nine-tenths of it existing below the surface of awareness. I had hoped as we evolve as a species, and evolved as individuals, more of that tip would rise above the deep.

My frequent encounter with dream snippets suggests I’m seeing into my own subroutines. That makes it easier to understand why so many people around me talk about the world so weirdly.

This makes me recall a very strange book I once read: The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. Jaynes offered a rather logically thought-out woo-woo theory that humans didn’t always think with a singular integrated mind. I now wonder if our sharply polarized political world isn’t due to the population being divided by different states of mind. Jaynes assumed we left the bicameral mind stage thousands of years ago. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe I should reread his book. Maybe it will read less woo-woo today?

The logic of the dream world seems much different than the logic of the wide awake world. But I’m not sure everyone knows the demarcation between the two.

JWH

9 thoughts on “To Doze, and To Dream”

  1. Many thanks for this, Jim! I find dreams fascinating. Borges (and perhaps others) have commented that dreams have an aesthetic side to them. They may have been our first form of entertainment before we had anything else–a medium in which the same person is author, actor and audience. In addition to Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven, there are two (perhaps more) SFF anthologies of stories about dreams: Perchance to Dream (ed. Damon Knight) and The Night Fantastic (ed. Poul and Karen Anderson).

      1. Also, I find your remarks here fascinating. I love the idea of an afterlife consisting of endless dreams. Maybe there’s an SFF story there?

        “I’ve always assumed when I die I’ll reach a state of absolute nothingness. Now, I worry I might be thrown into the chaos of endless dreams. My scientific thinking conscious mind doubts that, but as the conscious world becomes more chaotic itself, it’s easier to wonder about such possibilities.”

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