Saturday, March 21, 2009

In dreams

It’s generally a bore to hear people describe their
dreams. In books I’m always irritated when a writer
does it; it’s a weak literary device. But I will say this
about the dreams I have, that most of them, when
not completely fantastical, are set in the two places
I’ve lived longest in my life: my childhood home for
10 years and a house I later lived in for 15 years. I’ve
lived in many different flats and houses—probably
about 30 addresses in my life—and spent seven years
overseas but these locations never figure in my
dreams. Never. This suggests that sustained exposure
to a specific domestic environment creates a
permanent base in the subconscious: in some buried
part of our mind we continue to inhabit those rooms.
For me, an intimate sense of their spatiality remains,
even though, as happens in dreams, the action jumps
crazily about. Waking, I realize how much I must have
absorbed from what I’ve been most familiar with, and
how it keeps spooling away in the darkened theater of
the mind.

The French philosopher Denis Diderot believed that
everything we have ever seen, known, heard or
experienced exists within us, right down to a tint of
light or the look of grains of sand on a beach. We retain
these things in our minds but fail to consciously
remember them. We can dream them, though.

Memo to self: remember harder.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Hmmmmm.... being trained in sceptical analytic Western philosophy, I'm unimpressed with fanciful thoughts about everything we have ever seen being in our heads.

When it comes to explaining dreams, I prefer the explanations that match up with our neurophysiology. The most plausible explanation that I've heard is that human beings are pattern making creatures who impose order on random events. When we sleep, our neurons fire randomly, as we know from neurophysiological research. Something about the neurons firing leaves images / events / ideas in our minds (whatever those are), and if we are woken in the middle of a dream, we impose an understanding, an order, on those random firings. This would explain why people often dream about things that are central to their lives (more neurons encoding those events/images/things).

I mostly dream of my children.