Monday, December 12, 2005

Dreams = Interesting, Math = Not Interesting

My now semipenultimate entry below, the Twilight Zone dream musings, currently has ten comments (from, admittedly, only five distinct parties, one of whom is me, and half of them are actually about who has been together longer without being wed, but still — dude, ten comments!). The one above it is holding steady at none. I'm sensing my audience shifting back and forth on their feet, thinking, "Uh...math. Dude, that's...really...great." How come nobody thinks Math is as cool as I do? No, really. Come on people, I think Theory is cool. Give me some love here.
  • Yeah, so...dreams. Last night I dreamed that I walked out the back door of our house and into this enormous other house which, at first, I took to be some sort of annex to our house that I hadn't known about. Then suddenly the caterers showed up, as well as a bunch of guys in green kilts and green shirts festooned with gold trim, who were carrying in folding chairs and setting them up. Then I realized I was in some sort of hall that people rented for weddings. "So..." I thought, "is this part of our house, or what?" I'm sure Freud would have a field day with that one.

  • I have lots of dreams where I realize I'm dreaming. Lately, in them, I've taken to examining the scenery, or walls, or trees, in them, just to see how good the scan resolution of my dream-brain is (it turns out to be as good as I want it to be).

  • When I started sleeping in proximity to L., she started appearing in my dreams as a matter of course--whatever I dreamt about, she was just there.

  • A couple of songs that I'm working on now have parts (choruses, words, chord progressions) that came from dreams--I dreamt them and then they were still in my head when I woke up.

  • I've had what I assume other people are talking about when they say they've had out-of-body experiences (I am far from prepared to say that that's what happening, though who the hell knows). It otherwise feels like dreaming, with the notable exception of the distinct feeling of being lifted up and out of your body, and a sort of white-out of my field of vision and feeling of coming back when they're over. In one of them I was on the street outside our apartment, in another I went flying off somewhere, and ended up in front of a house on a hill. I walked up the steps and inside and there sitting on the couch was me, 20 years hence--looked like me, only skinnier and I had a relatively full beard. I started asking him (me) questions, and he (I) just looked at me and said, "Dude, you have no idea what's about to hit you." Then he took his hands and made a gesture like one might make to indicate that ones head is exploding. That dream/experience was six months ago. I'm still waiting on that particular prophesized revelation.

As I said in one of the ten (ten!) comments, the theory about RAM dumps is just my own "why" of dreams, and it's really only the why within a particular model of consciousness (though I do think that it nicely answers the question of why sleep isn't restful unless you dream). I don't know where I first ran into this idea, but it's not at all clear what the difference between "out there" and "in here" is as far as the brain is concerned. All is translation from the input from the receivers of vibration, or a particular spectrum of visible light, or chemoreceptors. More than a few smart people think that this distinction--in here versus out there--doesn't exist at all, at least not the way we think it does.

When we dream, we'd all agree that this distinction is gone entirely, though, for myself at least, it's something I still seem to enforce. Even when I know I'm dreaming I'm still dreaming of a distinct me, there's a distinct outside with distinct others in it. It can shift fluidly (I find in my dream narratives that I become different people at arbitrary points), but there's still that sense of me vs. not-me. So apparently I am clinging to some sort of distinction that doesn't really exist, at least not while I'm dreaming. Does it when I'm awake? Bring on the comments.


Sam said...

I feel privileged to get to start the comment thread...2 points:

1. My bet is that your readers are at least sympathetic to the notion that 'math is cool', but many of us just don't know much math. Thus, primes and fractals scare us a bit more than dreams. I also think, and this is more speculative, that you know more math than most 'math types' and are more willing to admit that math is one way of expressing something metaphysical, something ontological, but not THE way. Other 'math types', at least ones I've run into (even folks I like and respect), have a tendency to think math is THE expression, that it gets at some deeper truth that other expressions can. I once argued for hours with my friend Mark, who swears that if a = b and b = c then a = c IS TRUE. IS TRUE, not as a property of western logic, but simply as a fact of the universe. I've read way too much Heidegger to buy that.

2. There is an inside and an outside, almost all the time (even in Paul's dreams). However, the inside/outside distinction is drawn in language, not given to us by some external reality. It's not a fact of the universe, it's a discursive construct, which means the distinction is drawn in language and can always be remapped in language (and don't forget the crucial point - that which is outside of langauge can also only be gestured to from within it; the prediscursive is itself a product of discourse).

Rebecca said...

we love parallelism and thus:

1. my comment to your math post in my head went something like this: cabbage! pretty! pictures! pretty! and so I realized I had little to add, although I will say that pretty pictures are crucial and that the beauty of explanations is sometimes as important as their explanatory force.

2. I have long eschewed the notion that dream/life in/out are separate, or even that waking time is necessarily primary with sleep/dream time being secondary. I work out many things in dream-time, not necessarily in a Freudian-dream-interpretation-cigar way, but more in the way dreams often help us work through feelings that we otherwise (because of our day-to-day lives or because of societal behavioural barriers) don't get to work through.

I also believe wholeheartedly in dreams as predictors. Deja vu for me tends to link back to a dream rather than merely a feeling, and sometimes, in particularly strong cases like the one you describe, you can actually hold onto those future memories such that when they happen you remember their echo in your dream. the universe is not linear or logical (as your math post indicates) and thus why should we expect temporality to behave in ways Enlightenment thinkers thought it did?

Tarn said...

oh goody, I have two points too.

1. I'm having a major trekkie moment right now. (The Next Generation) Do you remember that episode when [I think] Riker has some kind of time travel experience? It's almost as though the "present" dissolves completely, and he whole-bodily experiences moments from his past memories and his future and it's all a muddy mix of sensations? The play here was made also between inside and outside - it seemed like he was dreaming but in fact these things were occurring. As for Sam's comment about linguistic discursive constructs, as much as I wholeheartily agree with that when people are awake, I think Paul's sometimes-attachment to his dreamego stems from something else, which leads me to comment #2.

2) Straying from my usual Theory and Mysticism blah blah... the practical take on active sleep (REM & dreams) is that during this ram-dump time, our bodies and our brains are making the most concrete learning-connections. Muscle memory occurs, mathematical problem-solving occurs, social problem-solving (as Rebecca mentioned) occurs, etc. By reflecting over the day's actions and behaviors, active sleep sorts through & discards the junk, and burns into memory what's needed. Paul seems to struggle a lot with non-attachment and egoless states, thereby inducing whack ass identity-shifting dreams. I, on the otherhand, am a bodhisattva, and so have no such whack ass identity-shifting dreams; I only dream of being covered in sparkling jewels while waited on hand and foot, showered with all of the latest techie toys.

Transient Gadfly said...

Really? Am I the only person that ever shifts identities in dreams? This happens to me all the time. I'm the first to admit that I am a little (*ahem*, a lot) whack-ass, but this seems more archetypical than all that. Give me some Jung here, people.

All others have two points, therefore must also I have two points.

1) Sam has given me my next blog topic. It is, unfortunately, about math, but it will be more obviously not-really-about-math than the last one.

2) Time is more complicated than that.

What, you want more than that? Jeez, you people are never satisfied. Okay, well, time is asymmetric. Entropy goes one way. Films of glasses falling to the floor and shattering look wrong when they're played backwards. This is by way of saying that I'm wary of predictive aspects of dreams. One thing that's obviously true is that you are likely to be able to reason out things that are very likely to happen when such things are likely to happen, because my experience is that the subconscious is a) very, very clever, and b) unimpeded by the barriers Red mentions. But as for meeting my 50-year-old self, and having him telling me mind-blowing shit is on the way, well, that seems more like metaphor than psychic prediction.

On the other hand, one might argue that psychic prediction is no more than being good at interpreting metaphor (and by "one" I mean, "I" might argue that).