June 17, 2009

It’s that time of year again; time for the final push to finish one’s academic work, followed by a whirlwind of goodbyes and promises to keep in touch and to visit over the holidays. It’s a heady, emotional time, as one is transported to the most ecstatic euphoria, a Bacchic revel in the face of the desolation and deprivation of a summer apart. It’s hardly surprising that in the face of such an ordeal one would turn to every coping mechanism imaginable.

For me, those coping mechanisms include, amongst other things, dreams. I think of myself as rarely dreaming, and then mostly in the time that I would characterize as “bonus sleep” – anything after 9 hours, usually. My understanding is that, regardless of whether I dream regularly or not, it is only when I have the pleasant, semi-wakeful sleeping of the “bonus sleep” that I am able to remember my dreams.

Clearly, though, this is not the case. For the last two weeks straight, I have dreamt every single night. The dreams have been vivid – euphoric or disturbing, frustrating and tantalizing – and have happened without fail, despite several nights of less than six hours sleep (all that end-of-term work finally catching up). In the psychoanalytic model, my subconscious is proessing my daily experiences and helping to integrate this time – make sense of things and store them in my memory. This jives nicely with my conscious experience of my waking hours; I am struggling to soak up everything around me, so completely engaged that I have lost touch with my own physical being, and find myself spilling or dropping things left and right. Simultaneously, I am trying to understand my place in the World After Oxford, trying to create a mode in which I can interact with this place as it has shaped my life, and yet return to the life which is now as alien to me as Oxford was upon my arrival.

But psychoanalysis is not the only model for dream comprehension that we have at our disposal. To me, it dictates a fixed view of the world, a particularly rational, deterministic, and scientific view. I would most closely associate it with Epiphenomenalism: the philosophy that consciousness and “free-will” exist as illusions after-the-fact of the deterministic universe, and that our “minds” exist only to make sense of and rationalize our pre-determined behavior; in short, consciousness is an “epi-phenomenon,” existing only after the fact. Conversely, we might consider Carl Jung’s teachings. As the founder of modern Dream Analysis, he is a fascinating lynchpin between the medieval intertwining of astronomy and astrology, which itself harks back to the fatalism of ancient Greece. If all dreams symbolize variations on the same themes and struggles, then we are all somewhat alike and all walk the same path.

All I search for now is a mode of understanding dreams which encompasses the language of free will and free thought. How can we understand and command our dreams free from the requirement of a higher power, free from predestiny, and yet free from a cold, scientific, “after-the-fact” explanation? Perhaps dreams reflect our agency; our consciousness playing out possible courses of action and acting as a feedback loop, trying to provide emotional and metaphorical context for decisions we anticipate in the future. This may explain the seemingly “prophetic” quality of dreams, as well as the reliance on recent experience and close resemblance to recent events. Thoughts?

Totally Non-Random Link:

Speaking of Carl Jung, I find myself unable to avoid mentioning one of my favorite T-shirts, for which we owe Carl Jung no small (hehe) amount of thanks: Tiny Carl Jung T-Shirt


One Response to “Dreaming”

  1. Christopher DeLuca Says:

    Dude, you are one academically wordy mofo, and I love it! You should check out the philosopher Ken Wilbur, if you haven’t already, as his ideas seem especially applicable to your musings, not to mention cool and crazy. I’m halfway through A Brief History of Everything, which I recommend. His shit can be rather self important and haughty (just look at that title!), but it’s good nonetheless.

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