Two levels down

For the first time I can ever remember, last night I had a dream about having a dream.

I didn’t remember this when I first awoke. Rather, it was only when, after becoming really awake (at least, I hope I’m now really awake), I found myself in a situation that reminded me of my nested dream. Then it all came rushing back to me. The interesting thing is that I can remember the dream within the dream in vivid detail — obviously it made an impression on me. So much so, that I felt moved to describe it, moment by moment. to my dream friends, who were all greatly amused.

I have no idea who those dream friends were supposed to be — generic stand-ins, I supposed, for the “group of people I know who are listening to me recount a dream.” Very pleasant people they were, though admittedly a little blurry around the edges.

I realize this will all remind most people reading this of Christopher Nolan’s recent film Inception. It certainly reminds me of Inception. Except of course that Nolan wasn’t really describing dreams, but rather “lucid dreams”, in which you know you are dreaming, and can utilize all of your waking free-will.

This wasn’t like that at all. At each level of my dream, I can recall being quite convinced that I was awake — a particularly ironic state of mind to be in while dreaming you are describing a dream. My experience was very much like a series of one-way mirrors, since each of my dream states could be seen into from the outside, but not out of from the inside.

This of course raises the usual philosophical questions: Was I having a dream within a dream, or just a dream? Is Hamlet’s play within a play more fictional than Hamlet himself, with characters who are somehow “less real”? I haven’t the faintest idea, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to guess.

Or maybe I would.

3 thoughts on “Two levels down”

  1. Not completely the same thing, but your post reminded me of a famous story in Chinese Taoist philosophy from the book of Zhuangzi:

    Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.

    I think it’s a lovely concept.

  2. Yes, thanks, I agree it’s a lovely concept, and it is one of my favorite of all stories.

    I had thought about mentioning that story, but decided against it because Zhuangzi was describing mutually lucent dreaming — which was exactly what I wasn’t experiencing. But I see now that I should have discussed it, for that very reason!

  3. Cormac McCarthy explores what you say you were experiencing at the end of Cities of the Plain. Although his take on it was rather gloomy. He rhetorically asks, “Is a dream within a dream really a dream?” And if so, “Who’s dream is it?”
    The character dreams that he watches somebody else fall asleep and then is uncertain when he sees what he thinks is that other person’s dream within his dream.

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