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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the strangeness of dreams

We take most of our lives for granted.

Things that are already in our experience, in our environment, do not arouse our curiosity. In general, we're not really any different from, say, a herd of cattle who come upon a flying saucer resting on a field: they would walk around it to get to the stream to drink. They might glance at it, but it's simply there, not affecting their concerns, so there's no need to pay more attention to it.

In a similar way, many aspects of our lives seem familiar and not worthy of special attention; but if you look at them more closely, they become deeply puzzling.

A prime example: dreaming. This universal and familiar phenomenon, like that of sleep, we take for granted. It just happens. No halfway decent explanation for why either one exists has been suggested, as far as I know. Some people study them, but these things are a profound mystery. Virtually all creatures sleep, but it is inexplicable in our world of Darwinian natural selection why all these animals, who are someone's prey, find it so urgent to make themselves completely vulnerable for long periods each day, and that no creature has appeared which has dispensed with this programmed vulnerability.

This morning I had a long, complex dream. In one part of it my mother's driveway, which in the dream (unlike reality) was long and straight, collapsed, as though it were the roof of an underground chamber: the old asphalt fell in to a deep rectangular trench. In the dream I'd been using an outhouse next to the driveway, and narrowly escaped falling in with the collapse. Then I recalled that my own driveway at home had collapsed in the just the same way, the same day, and in the dream I realized that this must be very significant--an impossible coincidence. It confirmed my sense of the meaningfulness of events.

There was much more to the dream: it involved old coworkers at ICBC, scriptwriting, guitar-playing, and other things. I went through feelings of fear, depression, and hope. But why do I have such a diverse and mysterious--as well as fictitious--other life? What can natural selection ever have to say about that?

I'll tell you what: nothing. The phenomena, real and universal though they are, lie outside the realm of discourse of life science. They're addressed by psychology, but there is no really satisfactory account there either. If we're honest, we have to admit it's a mystery--a flying saucer in the field that we walk by en route to the stream.

I know that the dream-imagery was influenced by my watching another episode of Planet Earth last night: "Caves". I felt awe and wonder as I watched, and could feel the images falling like seeds somewhere deep in the dark of my soul. How strange the world is: huge lightless caverns filled with bats and cockroaches and translucent eyeless salamanders. Huge flocks of birds navigating in pitch-darkness by using clicks like bats, and building nests for themselves on the vertical walls made from their own saliva. Deep, deep into the Earth go the caves, cut by water etching its way through limestone: blind underground rivers and waterfalls and lakes, populated by creatures that have never seen sunlight...

The images became braided with other things in my soul, and served up as a personal adventure in my sleep. It's all so strange and purposeful at the same time.

It's a mystery.

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