Wise men and women have for millennia wondered if what we have assumed was objective reality was only a dream.
On the home page of this website I quoted Mr. Edgar Allen Poe who once queried, "Is life but a dream within a dream?" What a curious question! Is he questioning whether we can distinguish between what is fantasy or reality? Isn't this inability to distinguish part of the very definition of what is considered magical thinking and a component of an obsessive-compulsive thinking disorder?
As I looked into this question I found that the Australian Aborigine thinks that we are continuously within a dream that creates what we call reality.
I do not believe that I am now dreaming, but I cannot prove that I am not." Exclaimed the 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russell.
The Toltecs believed that we are the dream of God. They suggested that God is dreaming the world into existence. This seems very much like the Australian Aboriginal world view and not too different in essence to the book of Genesis.
What happens when God awakens from the dream?
A Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, Relates that he had a dream of being a butterfly and when he awoke he asks whether he was Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu?
"Someday comes the great awakening when we realize that this life is no more than a dream. Yet the foolish go on thinking they are awake: Surveying the panorama of life with such clarity, they call this one a prince and that one a peasant—What delusion! The great Confucius and you are both a dream. And I, who say all this is a dream, I, too, am a dream"
Many scientists, philosophers, and cosmologists wonder if what we see around us may not actually exist. What we are seeing may only be projections from our psyches. That's not to say that there is not an object out there to be perceived, but that our relationship/understanding to it is subjective. The philosopher Shopenhauer stated that there can be "No object without subject."
Schopenhauer seems also to say that when we look back at our lives we begin to see that every event, even those that at the time seemed of no consequence, was important to where we find ourselves in the present moment. Everything is consistent to where we are as though it was all designed. But who, or what designed it? Schopenhauer seems to suggest that just as our dreams are created by an aspect of ourselves that is hidden from our conscious selves, so are our waking lives created by something unseen within us.
The study of quanta has shown that they can either be a particle or a wave and that it is the experimenter choosing the means for observation that determines which. How can they be both? Is Schopenhauer right? Can there be no object without subject?
Do we at some level create reality? Maybe, but I prefer to think that what we are mostly doing in the everyday vision of our lives is the laying on of our prejudices, beliefs and faulty memories to what it is we see and then create meaning for these visions. So is reality just our projections? And what are dreams save projections of our unconscious onto the visions of the dream?
If our experience of the waking world is a projection of our consciousness, do we do this also with our dreams in sleep? Is the life that we experience "out-there" just a projection of the "in-here?" Are we always dreaming? Is what we see and interact with the collective dream of you and I?
The Physicist Fred Alan Wolf suggests in his book, The Dreaming Universe (Touchstone, 1995, pg. 361-362), that there is an imaginal realm, a wave if you will, that can travel both forward and back in time to create reality as we observe it. He believes that this reality is not objective matter, but exists as a concept and in the realm of potentialities. It may be mathematically real but not objectively real. However, it is this very quantum level reality that gives rise to our objective reality when fixed by an observer (either a mechanical one, or you and I).
Who, or what are we really? I explore this in greater depth in the book, The Dragon's Treasure.
Who are we? A simple man's parable.
In a Ted Koppel interview with Morrie Schwartz of Tuesdays With Morrie fame (Mitch Albom, 1997), Morrie tells the story of a wave cruising across the ocean until he sees that the shore is rapidly approaching. He begins to become quite upset at the prospect of being smashed against the shore and becoming nothing and shares his fear with a female wave who seems unmoved by the prospect. He suggests that she is being foolish and doesn't understand her fate, but she responds that it is he who does not understand. There is no end at the shore, she says, for we are part of the ocean.
I am not a scientist, though I'm fascinated by science and the process of discovery. It's not that I reject the process, or am ignorant of its usefulness, for I was also trained in experimental psychology and the biological sciences. I am more than just familiar with the statistical paradigms that are used to extract meaning from experimental data and was trained in how to engineer experimental models and protocols designed to rule out bias in the scientific methods used in research.
How things work has from the very beginning of my consciousness (about five or six years of age as I recall) captivated me. However, when it came to researching what made me tick, when I began to take interest in the human condition as it manifest in me and asked the ontological questions of "Who am I and why am I here?" the mechanical, reductionistic answers of hard science and the magical answers of religious faith did not satisfy me. I instinctively knew that I was more than a biochemical process, an interactive social construct, or a sinner who needs to atone for being human in the first place.
There seemed to me to be something beyond the corporeal, something not of matter, but that influenced matter. Now some may call this fuzzy thinking, or vitalistic thinking, or (shudder) "soft" science, after all, if it can't be measured, or perceived with any of the five senses, even with mechanical augmentation, does it really exist?
Does an idea exist? Yes, you might say, but only in a biochemical form until it becomes transformed into an object, but the biochemical form is at its root an object, you might argue. But where did the stimulus for the biochemical reaction come from?
It seems that the deeper we go into the causality of what is, the more confusing things get. Fundamentally, hard science becomes quite soft when we look closer at the foundations of existence.
The mystics of all our faiths seemed to have gotten closer to the important questions of what we are than any science or theological dogma. Most of them never objectified their discoveries by giving answers to the questions researched, but they presented their discoveries in the form of questions, metaphor and parable that could lead to an increased awareness. Answers may very well be the booby prize in inner exploration. Answers never really and fully satisfy. Awareness may be the closest we can get to the ineffable without destroying it through objectifying it by making it an answer.
Dreams are symbolic messages from our unconscious mind that can bring awareness to consciousness. I don't treat my interpretations as answers which is why I pose the interpretations as potentialities and offer more than one level of explanation if I can, or when I see it. In my life I take little on faith, I look to see what things mean to me and watch how that plays out in the reality I find myself in. I also try to see what it is that I'm projecting onto reality and will listen to the diversity of realities available to me. In this process of self-exploration I never really settle on any one or even combinations because everything seems to be in so much flux. It's as though God is saying to me, "When flying, settle on nothing." "Anything that you make hard is not real." He might say. "Ahh, this is reality!" Say I. "No it isn't!" Says God. It's like a game of tag and I'm always "it."
"There is no one who hears, there is just hearing. There is no one who sees, there is just seeing."
–C. Beck, Everyday Zen (1989)
If I were to carry the idea in the above quote further I might add, that there may be no "I" who is dreaming, there is just dreaming.
When I am dreaming, who is creating the dream and who is observing it? When I self-talk who is listening? And what about the dreams where I am dreaming that I dream of seeing myself? Is there more than one "I" in there? How many?