In the course of the last few posts, I’ve had to consider: a chocolate mustard bio bun (with bogus trading cards), jellyfish soup, Welsh stereotypes, ponies and the exercitus Romanus. I’ve also had to address a number of questions regarding dreams: dream incubation and the factors that contribute to its success; the weight one should give to a dream’s connection with memories of the previous day; the emotions and moods that characterize dreams; the fact that your memory is often much better than you think it is; and what to do on the occasions when something seriously weird happens—although I still haven’t fully addressed that last one yet. But the main point is the question of dreams as messages, and in spite of all the detours, I haven’t lost sight of it.
You may have noticed that none of the dreams I’ve considered so far contains an unambiguous message. This is because, in my experience, this is normal for dreams. When we take advice from dreams, what we’re usually doing is reevaluating our waking-life conduct based on the new perspectives on it that the dream brings to our attention. This often has to do with our dream-self’s conduct, in recognition of the fact that we are not a different person when asleep than while awake—something I don’t think anyone would deny when it’s put in those terms.* It may also include things like setting and ‘plot’— features that we may not feel responsible for in the same way, but which certainly didn’t come from nowhere.
This is good; if my experience is representative, it is possible to receive explicit advice from a dream, but it only happens when you’ve been ignoring the subtler kind for a while. During a few months in 2009, I saw a progression from dreams giving this sort of implicit advice to dreams which deliberately twisted the advice I was getting from people around me—either portraying them as obviously wrong or showing them advising exactly the opposite of what they had actually said. Eventually, I did get explicit advice from a dream character who was explicitly represented as an oracular figure. But these were unusual conditions, and not the sort you’d find yourself in if you could possibly avoid it.
The idea of having your own personal oracle might be appealing, but I doubt that dreams can function in that way for long. It’s something that occasionally happens rather than a more-or-less constant function of dreaming, or something that you can train yourself in. I actually found it happening less often as my understanding improved rather than more– possibly a tacit recognition that my conscious, waking-life judgment is up to the task, but it’s also possible that being a person who values independence has something to do with it. I wouldn’t want someone just stepping in to tell me what to do—even if it was me on some level—even if it was something spooky and metaphysical. Especially if it was something spooky and metaphysical. And that may very well explain why even the implicit advice I find when I consider my dreams normally has to do with what factors to consider when I make decisions rather than advice on what option to choose, which seems to be what most people are after and what they receive when they consult their dreams for advice.
I would be curious to compare others’ accounts with mine, but unfortunately, most of the literature seems to showcase single instances of dreams offering advice rather than longitudinal accounts. A part of me suspects that this is because such accounts would fail to support the right kind of narrative, but who knows? Maybe the people who have experiences like that just have better things to do than write about them. I couldn’t say what would happen for someone who had more than their own personal well-being in mind—whether raising the stakes in that way would also result in more pronounced results. But I would suppose that the factors that make for a successful incubation would still apply.
It is still a little surprising to me that I received as strong a response as I did regarding the dreams in part 3 since they concerned what was, in the grand scheme of things, almost certainly a minor decision. I’m inclined to attribute it to being sick, or, rather, the circumstances entailed by it—lack of food, lack of company, relatively few distractions. It may have functioned as a sort of natural incubation ritual.
This may also go some ways towards explaining the remarkable coincidence at dinner that evening—not using ‘coincidence’ as a half-assed attempt at an explanation, the way it is often used colloquially, but simply to express the unlikelihood of such a thing happening without any causal relationship at work. Again, if my own experience is representative, the weird stuff is more likely to happen under unusual bodily conditions, even those within the range of normal experience.
There are a number of ways to interpret what happened—and importantly, at least two that don’t require positing a metaphysical agent with a pressing interest in how I spend my winter break. In the interests of not going seriously off-topic again, I’ll leave it at that. This project depends on being clear on where the boundaries of my knowledge lie, and so there’s not much I can say when the phenomenon itself makes a mockery of the attempt.
If I were to offer an opinion, though, I would say that there are two important things to keep in mind in cases like that: first, that they do happen, and second, that by themselves they do not actually prove anything—except, perhaps, that the world is a stranger place than you thought.
-To Be Continued-
* Well, except for John Locke. But he had to deny it in order to keep his theory of personal identity from being inconsistent, so he doesn’t count.