I’ve just got back from seeing the movie Inception. A film about dreaming. Overall I really enjoyed the film, but I thought the dream worlds were all together too… well real. It got me thinking about my dream life.
Since at least my teenage years I’ve been a lucid dreamer. Not all the time. About 50% of the dreams I remember I am a passenger, and typically all I can remember is the broad feeling of the dream (e.g. last night I dreamt I was late, there was a train involved, and that’s all I can remember). The other 50% I am, to all intents and purposes, conscious in the dream. More than that, I have some control. And over the years I’ve come to notice certain laws that always hold. Now laws is a funny word because in some cases I suspect I’ve created them, in others they seem to be features of the dream world. Either way they are laws. There may be more, but here are a few I can identify.
1. I cannot die. Unlike inception, I don’t wake up when I die (more on that later) I simply cannot die. Similarly, events in the dream do not cause me to feel pain, unless I’m already in real pain (again, we’ll come back to that).
2. I cannot kill. This isn’t a moral thing: if I try to destroy something I am utterly unable to do so. This may not apply to things I accidentally kill (I don’t remember if that’s ever happened), but is absolutely true of things I want to destroy.
3. I cannot read. I can quote text, I am highly literate, but I cannot read. Texts exist in my dream, but I cannot read them. I cannot create texts that I can read either.
4. I can fly. My flying action is rather like swimming, but still. This is always there, and I often merrily float around my dreams. I am the only person in my dream with this ability. I’ve never met anyone else in my dream who can fly.
5. I can breathe fine underwater. I swim a lot in my dreams, and I don’t need to worry about air. As for number 4, other folks in my dream don’t seem to be able to do this, so have the normal concerns about breathing.
6. I am impervious to the damage of extreme environments. I can walk through fire, sub-zero temperatures, etc.
7. I cannot travel faster than around 30mph. Regardless if I give myself a Ferrari, or a supersonic jet. I’ll still travel only just faster than running pace. In some dreams it is slower still, and I would be faster running. I think this is linked to dreams where you need to be somewhere and can’t get there fast enough, or you can’t out-run a chasing evil. But if it started in those dreams, it has now become a law and is the same always. Fortunately law number 8 means I can usually change where I am instantly to be somewhere else, so longer distance travel is often easier for me than shorter distance.
8. I can change the world at will (within some largely mysterious bounds, I can’t be specific about). In Inception the characters use totems to detect if they are dreaming. My equivalent is this ability. When I realise I am dreaming (which is the point I first become conscious in the dream), I try to change something trivial. The color of a street lamp from orange to green, for example, or a person’s gender. If I can do this, I am dreaming. I’ve never been conscious in a dream when this has failed, even when surfacing out of one dream into another. I don’t change the world in an Inception style, raising buildings, or demolishing cliffs. Instead I change things instantly and completely. I can fairly reliably change people’s gender (including my own – at least until anything sexual happens, then I’m always male [unfortunately ]), add and remove people from the scene, change location (although not all locations are always available to me), and change my identity (name, job, whether people know me or not, etc). It is rare for such a change not to work, but often they don’t stick. I might change the location to NYC, for example, only to find myself back in my garden a couple of minutes later.
9. Anyone I have sex with in my dream will transform to be my wife. This, I think, was a decision, made by virtue of being able to change the world. This has been true since before we were married, and I have a vague memory of making the decision way back in a dream (but this could be a fake memory, the memory is so insubstantial). I don’t remember why I made this choice – it isn’t like I’d have a moral objection to dream-infidelity. But it is now a law.
10. I can wake at any time I want. This, again, is something learned. I remember having nightmares as a young teen. I taught myself to wake at will, so now it is a law of the dream.
These two things are not laws of the dream-world, but are things I know about my dreams.
11. Any physical sensation in the dream is real. If I feel like I’m going to be sick, time to wake and get to the bathroom. If I feel my arm is painful, I’m probably sleeping on it. - A corrolary to that: Never pee in the dream. Most of my muscles seem nicely shut off in my dream state, my plumbing not so much. Fortunately, I learned this quite young, and so, by law 10, it is no longer a problem.
12. After having one lucid dream, I can usually go under again for another. At this point I have a good degree of choice of what I dream of next. If I get the opportunity for a couple of hours of lie-in, I can repeat several times. This, I have to say, is bliss.
So why this post? Well aside from the fact that lucid dreaming is very interesting (and pretty damn cool if you can do it), something significant occurs to me. In my dreams I have made my own reality. So those laws are laws that are purely about me. Some I know I’ve chosen, others are limitations of my experience or psychology. But none of them are real laws, none of them are necessary. If I had a different psychology they would be different. But I know these are laws, in the same way I know my coffee cup will fall if I drop it in the waking world. I have tried hard to subvert many of them, but they always hold.
That is odd, I think. And seems to me to say something interesting about the human mind. Something I’m not sure how to articulate.
I’d be interested if any of you are lucid dreamers, and if you can enumerate the laws that always hold in your dreams – the physics of your mind…