And by that I mean night time dreams, not ambitions. Dreams are one of the most disturbing and fascinating aspects of consciousness and awareness, and I might go so far as to say they are a form of alternative existence.
What do I mean by that? Let me tell you a story. When I was studying at Manchester Polytechnic I headed out one morning and pulled into the petrol station. The station had only recently been upgraded, but on that morning the old petrol pumps had been put back. And so had the price totem at the side of the road.
Anxiety soon took over when I couldn’t make sense of what was going on; too vivid to be a dream, too illogical to be reality. I sat in the car and asked myself what am I supposed to do if this is a dream? How do you ‘wake up’ from reality. I decided to test the situation: if all the cards in my wallet are identical I’ll know I’m dreaming. My wallet contained nothing but identical TSB credit cards. I was dreaming.
Then I woke up.
I had no idea what had happened and only came across the phenomenon by chance when Chris DeGarmo of rock band Queensryche wrote a song about his experiences of lucid dreaming. For anyone who has never had a lucid dream, these are not vivid dreams, you are conscious of your surroundings and in full control of your thoughts and actions, but you’re still asleep.
Think about that for a moment. If the brain can recreate reality in such detail that you can’t tell the difference, what is reality in the first place? Does it exist? Can we unzip ourselves and climb out of our bodies and ‘see’ what that reality actually looks like without the brain recreating it for us?
I often dream about people in all sorts of scenarios, but they’re not memories; I’m seeing people carry out activities for the first time. Again, how does the brain produce what are effectively animations? And just lately another conundrum has raised itself.
For three years now I’ve been writing about a fictitious rock band. With stock photography I have been able to visualise them, portray them on stage, in posters and on magazine covers, and yet, in spite of three years when barely a day goes by when I’m not thinking about them, they have never appeared in a dream, no brief appearances, not even a mention. It’s as if the brain doesn’t dream about anything that only exists in the imagination!
Half way through my second year at Polytechnic the year head told me I could expect a lower second class degree. He was quite kind about it and suggested if I make the effort I might obtain an upper second. Having discovered the power of dreams as a problem solving tool I did make the effort and the world of landscape architecture opened up to me. (I even understood Derridean deconstruction.) At the end of the course I was one of three students who gained a 1st with Distinction.
‘You came up on the rails,’ one tutor told me at the end of year exhibition. ‘None of us saw that coming.’ I nearly said ‘none of you have dreams like I do.’
But how do I know what other people dream about. In fact how do I know you even exist; I’ve never dreamt about any of you…