Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I never dream. I’ve heard lots of people say that, and I’ve said it myself before, but I know I do. It’s just that I don’t remember my dreams, or that I only sometimes dream, or that I’m only sometimes aware that I have dreamed. Occasionally, I know I’ve been dreaming, and the memory of dreaming is vivid, even strong enough to wake me up, but the actual dream has already slipped through the grasp of my memory, and it’s gone.
This morning I was aware of a dream, and I was following it as it made its nonsensical journey through an apparent jumble of mixed-up thoughts and ideas from yesterday, and I remember wondering before I actually woke up whether I would be able to remember any of it once I did. I think I do, and I’m going to try to recreate it here. But it has got me thinking about dreams and dreaming, which obviously means I’m going to go on about it in this column. Because I can. So, Dear Reader, if you are, please bear with me.
It only becomes a picture when someone looks at it
I know someone who dreams every night, and in the morning she not only writes it down, but she draws a picture of it. I see these pictures on social media, and I admire this facility to be able to remember dreams, and I wonder what makes this possible for some people and not for others. I’ve always thought that it might be a function of how people’s minds work. As I’ve said before, my mind isn’t at all visual. I can’t picture anything, and if I have to describe things or people I resort to a list of facts.
When I’m doing DIY, I have a sort of 3D map of dimensions and measurements that I refer to when making shelves or fitting things in to spaces. It’s a bit like the dots and lines of the page only becoming music when someone plays them, or one of those PC programmes that draws for you. The machine isn’t drawing, it’s assembling bits of data and sticking them up on the screen. It only becomes a picture when someone looks at it. I believe colour works the same way. Things give off or reflect light at different frequencies, and when that light bounces off the inside of our eyes, that information gets sent to our brains, which interprets it as a particular colour. This is one of my favourite brain-scramblers, trying to imagine what the universe looks like in the total absence of colour.
Whether dreams are actually about anything or not
Perhaps my lack of internal visual acuity stops me from remembering my dreams, or perhaps it just means I dream less. Or maybe my dreams are more about thoughts and ideas than those of other people. I do know that it’s relatively rare to have a mind that doesn’t work primarily in visual terms, butr I don’t know whether any research has been done in this area. The fact is that I don’t usually dream, or I have no memory of my dreams. So I have less idea than most people about whether dreams are actually about anything or not.
Many people believe that dreams are of great value, and if only you could remember them, something of profound import, about the world or yourself, would be revealed. Others believe that dreams are just a way of our brains shaking down all the events of yesterday and sorting them into their correct categories and niches. There are probably lots more ideas around dreams, but nobody knows for sure, because it’s all part of the great unknown that is our lack of understanding about all the really important things. I rather like the theories around religion and contact with other worlds or dimensions, and I like the idea that our brains are so busy so much of the time, and when we’re asleep they run around in a madcap way, playing like loose puppies.
Trapped in a room with a droning voice
We don’t always refer correctly to dreams, or we stretch the meaning of the word, sometimes very successfully. I’ll always remember Dr Martin Luther King’s great speech. “I had a dream…” Whether or not he actually dreamed it or chose to represent it as a dream doesn’t matter, it was immensely powerful. We all dream while awake, or at least our minds do something a bit like dreaming. Hands up all those who were accused of ‘daydreaming’ at school. Yes, I thought so. My own reports were full of it. Teachers think children are incapable of paying attention, but in reality, they simply aren’t allowed to tell their teachers that they’re being boring. Their brains come to their rescue, and give them interesting things to concentrate on when they’re trapped in a room with a droning voice.
I’m allowed to say this about teachers because I was one once. Given that so many brains out there work on a visual level, just speaking a lot of facts isn’t going to work very well. Pictures make such a difference. They don’t take the place of facts, but they provide hooks to hang facts from. Teachers aren’t always amenable to change or new ideas. I remember an evening class teacher who spent a lot of time and effort writing and printing lots of notes about the next week’s subject, and then spent most of the session reading those notes out loud to us. I made the mistake of suggesting that he give us all next week’s notes at the end of this week’s session so we could read them in between and we could then spend the time in class discussing the ideas. He went very quiet, and didn’t even look at me again for the rest of the course. And of course, he continued to hand out and read those notes.
We’re not going to be able to make sense of them anyway
I’ve always been jealous of those who can draw, especially if they can remember their dreams vividly and then draw them afterwards, because that might be the only way we have of actually ‘seeing’ anyone’s dreams. Whether or not these paintings and drawings are accurate representations or not doesn’t matter, because we’re not going to be able to make sense of them anyway. The one thing we can all agree on is that dreams are nonsensical. When we talk about a ‘dream’, we’re really talking about a strong, usually visual, concept we have about what we want or what we fear. Because dreams aren’t always pleasant. What happens when we have nightmares? Are we frightening ourselves? Or does the frightening stuff come from somewhere else? We don’t know, but the writers of scary books and the makers of horror films grow rich from their creations.
We do all love a bit of scariness, and there’s something in all of us that make us go there, even though we know we’re going to be scared witless. It’s no coincidence that every character in every horror film, when confronted by a locked door, or the basement, or the stairs up to the attic, is irresistibly drawn to going through the door, or down or up those stairs, even though they’re always going to regret it. And there’s the fantastic variety and endless creativity conjured up to give us new monsters and ghastliness to freeze our blood in our veins and to cause us to gasp and cry out in delicious fear. I know people who love all that. Personally, I can’t watch any of it at all. I have no idea what that says about me though, and I have no desire to make myself watch any of it in an effort to find out.
I can’t remember how the story ends
I did once read a wonderful short story, and it’s driven me mad for years that I can’t remember who wrote it or what it was called. It was about a woman who dreamed every night, and in the morning she woke to find that the world had become exactly what it had been in her dream. This was fine if her dream was a good one, but it became problematic if it hadn’t. So she started worrying about what dream she might have, and of course, that made her dreams worse. And nobody understood what she was talking about. I always thought that would make a great horror film, and I would watch it, because I can’t remember how the story ends, and it’s driving me mad.
Maybe we’ll discover how to capture dreams one day. We already know how to find out what type of dream we’re having, by measuring the brain activity when we’re asleep, but we’re nowhere near being able to save and store the actual experience, let alone playing it back. Perhaps we’ll be able to one day, and what a can of worms would be opened up then! I’m not at all sure we could handle that.
Oh yes! My dream last night! No, it’s gone. I can’t remember anything about it.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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