You’re innocent when you dream

Have you ever had a dream, which you completely forget about until suddenly it pops into your head much later? Well, I had an experience like that today: I was visiting my parents, sitting at their kitchen table (I mean in real life – we haven’t gotten to the dream yet) when suddenly I realized that last night I’d had a vivid and somewhat disturbing dream.

In the dream I was answering the phone, and a familiar voice – a man’s voice – said “Guess who?” I actually manage to guess – it was the voice of my former therapist. By the way, for those of you who don’t know, in New York City it seems that everybody has a therapist. I did have one for a while, but I stopped a number of years ago – I wasn’t really getting very much out of it. Although I could be in denial about that – how would I know, right?

Anyway, in the dream my former therapist (who in the dream has moved to California, which is where he is calling from) explains to me that my psychiatric chart was sent to him, and based on his assessment of it, he’s going to need to prescribe medication for my mental condition.

I remember feeling very disappointed in the dream that I needed drugs to have normal mental functioning. Disappointed in myself, as though I had failed one of life’s important tests. In my real life I’ve never been on any such drugs, and yet it never occurred to me in the dream to question his decision.

Of course later, sitting at my parents kitchen table when the dream popped back into my head, my first thought was how absurd the whole thing was – of course I wouldn’t have just accepted such a diagnosis. But that’s the difference between reality and dream reality, isn’t it?

My main take-away from this experience is the following question: Is there a different person there in our heads, the one who is dreaming the dreams? I mean, clearly the reactions, decisions, and possibly the values of the dream self are quite at variance from those of the waking self. Is there an identifiable person – a different and specific person – within our head when we dream? Or do we just float along, rudderless, without measureable personality of any kind, a leaf on the wind?

Any opinions?

4 Responses to “You’re innocent when you dream”

  1. That would explain why we don’t have willfull choice while dreaming, normally.

  2. sally says:

    I think in dreams, we’re all the characters–and that dreams are not direct literal translations. Your dream might not be about mental health, it might be about the past–it might be about California–it might be about your mom and dad–who knows?

    Some people are able to control their dream states. I forget the name of that condition….

  3. And says:

    of course, the freudian explanation of your dream is you have an unconscious fear/belief that you are insane.

    then again, perhaps,as sally observes, we are universal agents in our dreams and adapt our self-image to whatever actor our dream world portrays.

    then again, perhaps because it was a (presumably) trusted and knowledgeable source instructing you, you believed him even though he was saying something he’d never have said in real life.

    then again, if you subscribe to the theory that dream narrative is the construction of our internal narrator making what sense it can of random sound and imagery, the question remains why wouldn’t the internal narrator be consistent with your “real” self (which can be said to have it’s own narrator)?

    perhaps in your dream state you assented because the next image that was queued onto the narrator’s stack wasn’t in response to your therapist’s suggestion but was, some random sensory data, which your narrator more or less associated with assent. a smile, a nod, the smell of fresh baked cookies. who knows?

    humans are especially adept at (if not driven to) constructing coherent narratives out of the scantest sensory input and recollection thereof. which goes a long way to explain our fascination with movies and tv and theatre and the written word.

    intriguingly, psychosis (to bring us back to mental health) can be viewed as a distortion of the internal narrator. i was speaking with a long term mental patient a few years ago who was prior to her hospitalization a voracious reader. no longer a reader (or a tv watcher for that matter she only listens to music), she described her experience of media as pure abstract poetry. snatches of disconnected images and phrases.

    i have also heard of people in altered states of one kind or another experiencing the world as part of a larger (previously hidden) narrative.

  4. Ben Bederson says:

    I recently tried to help my 9 year old daughter fall asleep. I explained the concept of counting sheep, and how it was supposed to be a bit boring. But also that it was a bit fun because as you counted the sheep, sometimes they wandered off making it difficult to count, and you had to try and get them to stay in a place so you could count them.

    I watched her, for the first time, recognize that in even while awake there was *someone else* controlling what *she* thought. The concept was kind of mind blowing, and she couldn’t wait for me to leave, so she could try it out.

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