Back in bed again—or somewhere not unlike it, as is usually the case with dreams. I hadn’t planned to sleep late this morning, but since I am, and trying to wake myself up has so far only resulted in waking into another dream, I figure I might as well get up and do something. Perhaps I’ll go outside this time. The world outside the window looks more colorful than usual, deep and saturated, like the sky before a storm. As I watch, the glass seems to be thickening and darkening, dividing itself into translucent squares, each with some kind of glyph or symbol inside. I wonder if I can still pass through it successfully. (Who uses the door in dreams?) But I step into it anyway, and through it, and find myself outside.
It’s a street surrounded by trees, much like one I used to live on, except that there aren’t any other houses around. It’s summer, judging by the greenery. Down the street, towards where it links up with the main road, something is happening. It looks as if people are removing barriers: some kind of road-crew has just finished a repair and is leaving, or perhaps I’m seeing the final clean-up stages of an accident. Supervising it is someone I recognize—a fictional character whose presence here is a bit surprising. But I take it in stride. I have something on my mind today.
“Hey, professor,” I say. “Do you know anything about the philosophy of Leibniz?”
He doesn’t, he tells me. Oh, well. It was a long shot, but you never know with dream characters. “But,” he says, “You could always go talk with Leibniz.”
He’s right; I could. It is a dream, after all. But he’s also missing the point. How honest an answer should I give him? Again, this is a dream: no reason to be less than honest.
“Actually,” I say, “I’m looking for someone who can convince me that he’s wrong.”
There was more after that that I can’t remember—and more before it that I can—but that’s basically how it went.
The dream was interesting for several reasons – but at this moment, what I find most interesting about this dream is what I’m doing with it: I’m trying to solve a problem.
I think there’s a lot we can learn about dreams in general from lucid dreams—those dreams where we know that we’re dreaming as we dream them. In a lucid dream, the dreamer is aware of their intentions in a way they usually aren’t. This is because they can consciously choose what happens in their dream. But why should we think that their conscious choice is different from the unconscious choice they make on the nights when they aren’t aware that they’re dreaming, aside from being more conscious? Yes, the dreamer has the opportunity to make better choices, but it often seems to be the same old thing in bolder colors. It’s a depressing thought—unless you happen to think the same old thing is pretty effective already— but either way, it presents a unique insight into dreaming.
There’s a theory of dreaming—creatively named the problem-solving theory of dreaming—that claims dreams are attempts to solve our problems. Do we see lucid dreamers doing this? Yes, all the time: musicians and athletes can even use them to develop new techniques; writers can use them as a sort of workshop, as Robert Louis Stevenson did; and many dreamers use them to come to terms with their emotional concerns. Or they can just use them to fly around and have a great time—and maybe their problems look a bit smaller from up there.
And to say that dreams can be used to solve our emotional problems is pretty much the same thing as saying that they serve a therapeutic purpose. There are theories like that out there, too. I’ve had both lucid and non-lucid dreams where I’ve had conversations with dream characters that would not have been out of place in a therapeutic context. At least, if they didn’t occasionally turn into arguments about Protagoras.
Do people use lucid dreams for wish-fulfillment? It’s easy to find hundreds of reports of this on internet forums. Whether it’s flying, or sex, or epic video-game style battles, there are people out there doing it every night. It’s even recommended for people who are just learning how to lucid dream, since it helps them to create positive associations with the process. It’s only a small step to hypothesizing that this is the motive force behind some non-lucid dreams as well.
And for that matter, it’s only a small step to drawing conclusions about your waking-life motives. You certainly don’t need to examine waking life from the perspective of lucid dreams to discover new things about yourself, but it can help. And if you’re a skeptic, it can also convince you that the things you suspect are ‘too good to be true’ might actually have some reality in them. Maybe I really am the one person in a million who doesn’t stop using logic when it gets inconvenient.
But since I’m fairly sure this whole Leibniz deal is just my subconscious’s latest attempt to make an optimist out of me, maybe I’d better not say things like that….
Anyway. It’s an interesting thought, and possibly a productive one.
Wishing you the best of all possible dreams,