Friday, January 30, 2009

Oneirology


Awoke this morning from a dream so lucid and strange that I lay in bed for half-an-hour trying to reconstruct its elements in my conscious mind. Never mind what it was -- we all have such dreams -- except to say that it incorporated places and events from my distant past that I would assume had been long forgotten, along with stimuli from the previous day. Instead of my own dream, I offer here Salvador Dali's painting of his wife's dream, called "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening." The painting is as enigmatic as dreams themselves.

Researchers tell us that we spend about six years dreaming during a typical lifetime -- about two hours a night -- which means dreaming occupies as much of our time as eating and sex put together. We know about as much about eating and sex as we'd want to know, biologically speaking. About dreams we know next to nothing.

We have no idea where in the brain dreams originate or how they are executed. There are dozens of theories for why we dream -- what might be their biological or evolutionary purpose -- none of which remotely approaches consensus. Six years of our lives about which science remains almost completely ignorant.

I dream in black-and-white, as most people did 50 years ago. Today, apparently, the majority of people dream in color, presumably the influence of color media. I recall that when I was a kid my dreams were framed with round corners, like the silver screen on which my father projected his 8-mm home movies. Today my dreams expand to fill all available mental space.

Like most people, my dreams sometimes have recurring themes, usually associated with fears of some sort -- teeth falling out, backyard septic systems opening up beneath my feet. Occasionally an agent of impending harm is so vivid that I wake with a shout, as the woman in Dali's painting might wake at the moment the bee's (tiger's) stinger (bayonet) is about to pierce her neck.