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A Waking Life Moment

Most sane people have some version of "acceptable reality" going on while they're awake. If they were to encounter, say, someone walking two feet above the ground, they would be amazed because that falls outside most people's acceptable reality. They would demand an explanation that either fit within their acceptable reality, or gave adequate reason to change that acceptable reality to accomodate new data.

Of course, there are exceptions. You're much more likely to believe things when you are under the influence of overriding factors like chemicals or large crowds. It's easier to convince a large crowd that, say, Martians are invading Grover's Mill, New Jersey, than it is to convince just one person. Normally, though, when we are alone and chemical-free, there's a limit to how much we're willing to accept.

And then we go to sleep.

Why is it that when we're asleep, "acceptable reality" takes a holiday? In dreams, we accept that people and places we know well will look totally different, that people we know to be far away or even dead might be right there talking to us. We accept that there will be unexplained temporal/locational shifts where we'll be in one place in daylight one minute and in a completely different place in darkness the next. And yet, in dreams, we don't stop to question it. Why? We fly, we experience dire physical trauma without pain, people in dreams act irrationally, and yet we accept that as reality. Why?

Awkae, we have the special media exception. When you watch a television show, it can take place at any historical or future time, in any place real or unreal, and it does not have to adhere to any physical realities of earth. We accept breaks in time, appearance of people we know to be dead. People act as irrationally as the writers want them to act, and we laugh along with the laugh track. I've even seen television shows that use that similarity to further the plot, moving from one scene to another in a different location and then having a character say "How did we get here? Do you remember coming here?" It's funny, because we all recognize that trope.

If you are capable of lucid dreaming, you can control your dreams. You can force people and things in dreams to behave in ways that you want them to. The trick is recognizing that it's a dream. In Richard Linklater's film Waking Life, the main character finds out that one way to know that you're dreaming is that you can't read things in dreams, and yet I've read in dreams many times. I also see colors in dreams, as do many other people.

Most dreams, when recounted upon waking, sound ridiculous. They may have been deeply emotionally moving while you were asleep, but it seems that the emotions are experienced entirely separate from the dreams themselves.

I know that there have been many times that I've left the television or radio on when I've fallen asleep. My dreams will then come with a soundtrack (like the dream I had about traveling down the Amazon on a riverboat having the guide point to some crocodiles and tell me that the female is distinguished by the claw marks on her back that the male leaves there while mating - a tidbit that's true about the penguins on the documentary that was playing on my television, but not about crocodiles). I've also had physical sensations, like a limb falling asleep, that have shown up in my dreams.

It makes me wonder if there's not the same causality between emotions and dreams. What if it's not the dream of having your spouse leave you or of seeing your long-dead favorite relative that causes the emotion, but the other way around? You're experiencing the emotion "happiness," so your mind takes images from your day, from your subconscious, from things you've forgotten you knew, and constructs an image of "happiness" for you. Or "terror," or "confusion," or "adventure."

If that's the case, maybe that's why we accept those realities. We need them. It's like accepting the taste of spinach because your body's short on iron. We can handle flying if it's something we need to be true. And how much cooler would it be if we could have that when we're not asleep?

What do you think? The chicken, or the egg?

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