The Enemy of the Good (eideteker) wrote,
The Enemy of the Good

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And in my dreams, I am anonymous

Have you ever had a dream where things are disproportionately scary? Like a giant goldfish turns to you and says, "boo." Things that would never scare you if you were awake can be quite frightening in dreams, simply because your amygdala is all lit up. Last night was like that for me, except everything I said or did was disproportionately hilarious. It was like we were all suffering from nitrogen narcosis, that giddy rapture of the deep. I was convinced that I needed to write all this stuff down and start work on a screenplay immediately. It was also the first time I can recall where I was telling a story within a dream (or at least pitching one). Stupid stuff like a wacky brother-in-law character (there's no shortage of those in wacky/hacky family comedies) named Douglas (which we pronounced "Doog-lass"—high comedy! Histerity!) who had like 5-6 kids who all looked just like him, same stupid haircut and all. And when slouching on a staircase in chronological order, they looked almost like matryoshka dolls. This stuff is not really that hilarious, but the people I was telling about it in my dream were in stitches. There was also the maternal penchant for swatting people with a silver flashlight, something I was convinced was a trait possessed by my mother and all mothers though my waking mind has no recollection of any such incident in my past. The laughs came at the young hero's acquisition of his own silver flashlight, which he then produced at this family get-together to suddenly parry her stroke! Like something out of Star Wars! OMG! Just not that funny! But my audience thought it was hilarysterical. "You should totally write this stuff down!"

Okay, except I couldn't. My computer was an old model, which was password locked by some forgotten system. Oh, and on TV was an old soap opera from the 70s which was currently showing a storyline about mathematicians. Paul Erdos was a recurring guest star, which threw a wrench into all those Erdos-Bacon computations. Oh man, if only there was a way I could work this into my screenplay, it would be awesome! You see, it's like I was aware what I was seeing was a product of my own imagination; why else document a soap opera that was so widely watched that it's in reruns thirty years later? But I wasn't quite lucid. So I think there's levels to awareness, to lucidity, that are masked by the ephemeral nature of dreams. We simply don't remember being vaguely aware of these inconsistencies, which, like Leonard Shelby, makes it hard for us to piece together the fact that we are dreaming. So I don't think that it's we lack consciousness or awareness while dreaming, it's that since dreaming is sort of layered over the process of writing to memory, our normal memory process is disrupted. Maybe this means that what we assume is "consciousness", our central conceit as humans re: what separates us from [lesser] "animals" is really a function of memory. Remembering actions, consequences, cause and effect and so on allows us to feel as if we are awake, aware, and sentient and allows us, in effect, to alter our own programming. Can you imagine if your computer, instead of blindly throwing up the same error message time and time again learned? If it remembered the scenario and conditions leading up to the error, figured out what caused the error, and tried something else to compensate? If it were able to compose a narrative, interpreting (sometimes incorrectly, as we do) what was relevant and irrelevant to the error, and extrapolating from the experience of other (networked?) computers—what we call stories or even gossip—an appropriate course of action? What else is language (the other main thing that separates us from "beasts") but an information exchange protocol akin to computer networking?

Without memory, we're like Leonard Shelby; things are just happening to us and we react almost reflexively (how reflexively depends, I think, on just how large our buffer is. Is "buffer size" correlated to some extent with intelligence? See next paragraph). Isn't this what happens in most dreams? And, rather tellingly, we're all the while trying to construct that narrative, to establish cause and effect, struggling to remember where we were and what we were doing (and in some cases who we were/are as we switch POV). Lucid dreaming just allows us to step back and create a meta-narrative: Relax, you're dreaming. And then everything "makes sense" (as it were) in that context. And what's the first step in learning to lucid dream? Almost universally, it's remembering your dreams. Documenting them. Detecting patterns in your dreams that allow you, within the dream context, to create that meta-narrative that says "I'm dreaming."

I'm convinced that consciousness is not a thing; it's not a switch that's turned on or off but rather a spectrum or continuum. And that jives with what I think is everyone's experience in growing up. You don't suddenly become conscious at birth but gradually achieve it over time. It's tied in with definitions of sanity, which I mused about back in high school. When do we become sane? By legal definition, it's usually 18. No, really. At least, historically. Sanity has been defined in at least some cases as "being able to see the consequences of one's actions and control them accordingly." We're not born "sane" as such, which surprised me when I first understood that back when first musing on this in high school. Babies definitely don't fall under this definition of sanity. It's the construction of the narrative, built around memory and shared experience, which creates the sane individual; the constructive and functioning member of society, as it were. And I'm not saying this to pin down a single definition of sanity or quibble over meanings but rather to look at it in a specific sense based on a certain definition which has been used at some time. The fact that it has been defined this way at some point in time by enough people to make it into a dictionary suggests that it reflects the sort of concept I'm talking about here. Call it sanity, call it consciousness, call it intelligence (artificial or otherwise); it's a spectrum, something achieved over time, and something which the function of memory in dreaming interferes with, perhaps meaningfully. Is it any coincidence, in this context, that memory and "intelligence" seem to be correlated? At least in the Judeo-Christian Western culture that I'm familiar with, there seems to be (historically) a hierarchy of intelligence with the mentally handicapped being seen as closer to beasts and "God"—the ultimate All-Knower—as the ultimate form of consciousness. Now this is seen as a bit Victorian a perspective, but it was (and maybe still is) there, lurking behind the murky definitions of this ill-defined and mercurial thing we call language.

Still not sure what was going on in my head that caused my dreams to be pervaded by an atmosphere of "this is hilarious" like everyone was on laughing gas. Maybe my amygdala is burned out on being the whole "generating fear" part of my brain and has decided to go into comedy instead, like it always wanted to but its parents wouldn't let it back when they were around. In that case, I look forward to having tons of giddy dreams in the future until that gets tedious and we decide to branch out into period romance or westerns or whatever's next.
Tags: dreams

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