Wednesday, December 29, 2010

...Life is but a Dream

Dream Sailor by Alex Grey
 I recently watched Inception, a very well done movie about a new technology that allows people to get inside other people's dreams and steal information; or in this case, to try and plant an idea. Anyone interested in dreams and consciousness and such ideas will find it enjoyable. It is visually very beautiful as well, with great effects.

For myself, as I watched the movie I couldn't help but to keep thinking of the story of Chuang Tzu, the ancient Chinese sage:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. This is called the transformation of all things.

For you see, the movie's real interest stems from the complication of dreams-within-dreams; similar to the animated film Waking Life, also about lucid dreaming. This multi-leveled nature of the dreams leads to confusion among the characters about what is actually reality. And I thought, how much like real life. 

Chuang Tzu's dream
 I mean, the metaphor of life being a dream has long been used by philosophers and sages, and not always as a metaphor. Heaven in many ways resembles awakening to a life clarified by the Truth of God, after the falseness of life on Earth where Satan "walks to and fro" and maintains his kingdom. One could see Hindu and Buddhist reincarnation as endlessly waking from dream after dream, trapped, until one finally realizes the truth of the situation and breaks the chain, either waking up or becoming lucid. Even modern science tells us that the mind knows absolutely no difference between waking and dreaming. The only difference is the source of the input: the senses while awake and the brain while asleep. But to the mind, an experience in a dream is real.

So who's to say whether this whole life is a giant fantasy, and when we die we wake up into the real? This isn't idle wondering, this is a serious, ancient philosophical and spiritual question. Many sages and wise men have used exactly that analogy, saying that enlightenment is like awakening from the dream; like lucid dreaming, you could say.

It comes down to this: how do you tell the real from the dream? And the answer is, we cannot. Dreams are as real to the mind as waking life, it does not consider it fantasy until we wake up. The experiences had in dreams are 100% real, as are the emotions; the brain makes no distinction. This is why a dream that can seem so very deeply real can trouble us for a long time, it can ruin a whole day, or longer, can change our behavior or our life.

Who says gremlins are imaginary?

But, you argue, in dreams people fly, or there are monsters, dead people come back to life, and so on. Yet let's be honest about things-- we cannot say if this our "normal" world is actually normal. Have you actually looked at some of the animals we share the planet with? Or the fantastic technology we now have access to? We can cross the continent in a few hours, moving at crazy speeds as we fly through the very sky, but all we do is bitch about the cramped seating or the ten minute wait to board. Humans can get used to anything.

(That in itself is an old philosophical question, I believe it was Hume who talked about it. Who's more impressed by magic, adults or young children? Who would be amazed if the law of gravity took a break? In both cases, it's adults; kids haven't lived in this world long enough to build expectations on such things. Dreams return us to that same sort of credulity.)

Implications? I'm not sure. It's just fun to think about. And yes, I realize I could have written the same blog post about the Matrix. Same set of questions, generally, and the Matrix consciously drew on spiritual and philosophical questions and motifs. Both movies play with the question of whether a world is the real one or an illusion, and whether it's better to be in the illusion than to face the true reality of things. Things to ponder.

More posts to follow on this theme.


  1. I actually used to be really into dreams, read up quite a bit about lucid dreaming, dream psychology, kept a daily dream diary for several consecutive months at different times in my teens and early twenties, and sporadically after that, though sort of fell out of it over the last year or so, and think that may partly be the source of my problems (major stress, lack of clarity), a sort of amnesia, or black out of my inner life of dreams. Have to get back into it.

    Haven't seen Inception yet, but I will eventually. I thought Waking Life was excellent. And yeah those are some very strange animals (I followed the link), interesting though.

    Very fascinating topic overall, look forward to reading more.

    P.S. Also adding pictures to your posts is a really nice addition, really makes the blog come alive. Nice job.

  2. Thanks Cym, for your compliment there.

    As to dream notebooks, I try to do that but mostly fail. And I can usually make no sense of them anyway. They are always interesting to go back and read, though. And the couple lucid dreams I've had were pretty amazing, though brief.

  3. I will put "Inception" on my Neflix queue.

    I find a lot of inspiration in my dreams.

    Bob Dylan said, "God knows the secrets of your heart, he tells them to you in your dreams."

    And I actually dislike "The Matrix" but I might watch it again.

    And my Chinese Tao teacher said about the butterfly dream, "The point is, they're BOTH dreaming."

  4. Dreams come true when we put all our effort on that.when we have dedication ,we will definitely reach heights.