We differentiate the sensation of dreams from typical awareness, believing that while the same processes may be involved, the same degree of agency is not.
When we are awake, light enters the eye, meets the retina, and is transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain which distinguishes contrast, colour, distance, and more. This information transmission occurs on a massive, continuous scale, mediating the physical world and our comprehension of it. After this data is interpreted and compressed, it is repackaged (though there are some additional quirks) into sight. Combined with our other senses, we understand the composition of the area around us — particularly the objects, emissions, distances, and attributes which define it. This is not an all-encompassing view, as contemporary scientific knowledge acknowledges individual mutations and adaptations which might result in a different way of “seeing.” Additionally, there are numerous information datasets available which our bodies lack the ability to sense or interpret. For instance, while the visible wavelengths of light we can recognise define the limits of our eyesight, they are but a limited fraction of the total spectrum available. As technology advances, scientific instruments have been invented which measure and composite these other data with the wavelengths we see to create more detailed images (e.g. infrared photography). Despite our limitations, we generally believe in the fidelity of our sight.
As the amount of light in an atmosphere changes, so does the data our retinas receive. As luminance decreases, so does the range of colours and clarity of form we perceive. The terminus of our visibility arrives when we close our eyes, removing all direct light and visual data from our retinas. However, as our system of sight is part of the nervous system, electrical stimulation to the retina can continue to contribute to our perception, enabling visual sequences within dreams themselves. Yet, this does not explain the vividness of these dreams, nor their indelible qualities, nor the disparate feelings they can evoke. Some aspects are still to be discovered.
Soporific dreams occur as we sleep. These dreams have different impetuses and occur at different times, but some characteristics remain similar:
1. The components of Soporific dreams have a relationship to our lived experience.
The feelings evoked and images “seen” are necessarily based on the people, places, and experiences our brains have previously encountered. When composites and replacements occur they are not wholesale inventions, simply novel (to our recollection) amalgams.
2. Our Soporific dreams are not reality.
We can differentiate between our real lives and the dream state as two connected, yet distinct experiences. This can be particularly helpful when the feelings evoked by a dream are negative or erosive (like a nightmare), but can also be a source of yearning when the imagined world is perceived to have superiorities to our own. Feelings evoked by dreams can be extended into daily life, but imagined realities do not.
3. Our Soporific dreams are surreal.
The irregularities of our dreams are not only incongruous with lived experience, but also irrational. Whether our dreams break the laws of physics, physical ability, or simply remix common components, these can acquire the appearance of an Exquisite Corpse.
We speak of waking dreams differently than those experienced during sleep, as each has a different character. Our waking dreams can be understood as having two forms: daydreams (imagined experiences replacing the realities of immediate circumstances) and ambitions.
Ambitionary dreams are inventions of the lucid mind. We are aware of the extent of reality, as well as our ability to change it, and believe we can transform fiction into action. These dreams have the potential to escape their imaginary state and become literal.
Yet, there exists a strange tension between the Ambitionary (conscious) dream and the Soporific (unconscious) dream. The Soporific dream is a false, surreal experience defined by its evocation of feeling, yet its components are dependent on our lived experience. In contrast, the Ambitionary dream is a probable experience (albeit not yet realised) defined by its conjuring of actual change, yet its components are dependent on experiences not yet lived.
The unconscious is dependent on the sum of our lives and the conscious is dependent on the sum of our imagination. This unresolved incongruity demands clarification. While we can explain the physical phenomena which contribute to our fantasy, we find it troubling to prove the fantasies we wish would contribute to our physical reality.
A reasonable response to this claim would be to identify the Ambitionary dream as an assemblage of collected experiences and to emphasise how, unlike the surrealism of our Soporific dreams, this conscious type has real-world reference. Yet, for this to become true we must be active participants in our own dreaming.
For a dream to be Ambitionary, it is not enough to simply live, rather one must continuously identify those moments which are the component parts of some larger, future potential. In the midst of our perceived mundanity, we can default to looking forward at the expense of remembering where we had been. Each of our past selves had hopes and dreams too, some of which are coming true during our present. To leverage this understanding and create a practice of dream recognition, we must not only imagine the composite of our future, but celebrate the achievements of our past Ambitionary dreams now realised in our present.