I recently saw an episode of NOVA called What Are Dreams? Dreams are such a fascinating subject, and it was a great show. It’s so interesting for example that scientists have identified 5 stages of sleep, can recognize them based on brain activity and physiological factors, know how long they tend to last and the order in which they occur -- yet the only way to determine whether a subject is dreaming is to wake them up and ask them.
And why do we dream in the first place? One theory is that the brain is running simulations in order to test how our actions affect situations, in order to be better prepared to face potentially dangerous situations in real life. Another says it’s the brain running through newly-acquired information in order to better learn/remember it, or to try and find connections between pieces of information that our waking mind might not realize should be connected.
For the past few years I’ve had variations of the same dream many dozens, if not hundreds, of times. In the dream, I’m in school -- sometimes it’s high school and sometimes it’s college -- and it’s late in the semester. I realize that for one of my classes, I haven’t attended it for most of the semester and haven’t done the assignments and can’t possibly pass it. For the past year or so, however, that recurring dream has been largely replaced with another one: I’m in a situation involving a river or a lake (this is a good and fun dream for me) and I end up jumping or falling into it, then suddenly realizing that I’ve left my iPhone in my pocket.
After watching this NOVA episode, it occurred to me that although I spend the majority of my time alone (except for the cats), I can’t think of a single dream that doesn’t involve other people. And it’s usually lots of other people. It seems that my threat simulator needs to upgrade itself to prepare me for the kinds of threats that I might actually encounter: stubbing my toe on the way to the bathroom, being fangoriously devoured by a small housecat, etc.