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Do you dream in color or black and white? I was asked that question by a smart senior physics major twenty five plus years ago at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Since he proudly announced that he dreamed in full vivid color, the implication was that he was definitely smarter than me if I, presumably like most, dreamed in mere black and white. I had never thought about such a question before.
On reflection, I realized that I didn't really dream in black and white or color, but rather in emotionally charged concept fragments. That is, my dreams were not particularly visual in nature, but rather had a story line, or a series of thought-emotions, which were not displayed as if on a movie screen in my mind. Instead, my dreams tended to well up from deep within my mind, and remain integral to my entire mind and emotionally engage my mind and body. I don't know how most other people typically dream, although a few with whom I have discussed the topic are somewhat comfortable with the visual analogy, while at least one (my brother) agreed to describing his dream experience, like mine, as being in mental concepts. It is an interesting question about what goes on in our minds when we dream, and I do not claim to have any understanding of the subject beyond this brief analysis.
But I do suspect that dreams use an ancient thought-system, which probably pre-dates and underlies verbal language. That is, it may mirror an important meaning-system which lies beneath verbal language, but which is essential to our conscious thought patterns and perhaps to language itself. I think of it as a partially or largely unconscious system which supplies the ground of meaning upon which we build with verbal language, logic, and the highest forms of human rationality.
As such, this ancient thought-system has value, important value; and so a little thinking about its meaning, use, and form is in order.
I conjecture that this system of thought is highly emotional, and that the emotions generated have to do with what is perceived by the mind as concepts, symbols, or ideas which are inherently good or bad, in the sense of having good or bad ramifications for the being doing the dreaming. For apparently the dreams have less to do with the question of truth or falsehood, in the literal sense, but rather more to do with the goodness or badness and often even the relative beauty of the emotionally charged symbols and ideas and plot lines flowing through the sleeping brain, relative to the well-being of the dreamer. That is, of the three kinds of "truth" which we call the factually true, the good , and the beautiful, the dream world has more to do with the good and the beautiful than it does with the factually or propositionally true.
Clearly, much is lost in the dream state when compared to the waking human mental state; but something is also gained. We see a glimpse of a mental apparatus that is usually invisible in ordinary waking life, I believe this mental apparatus has positive survival value and also positive value towards our effective thinking and even reasoning. For a little reflection will probably convince you that pure logic, in order to be effective, must needs be grounded in a system of emotions which gives weight to the relative underlying value of differing options and plans. That is, a machine intelligence which lacked a similar emotionally grounded thought or meaning system, even though it might be capable of great feats of logic above and beyond the human, would be incapable of making important decisions, formulating important plans with the conviction of implementation, and ultimately lack the drive and will power of a more human like intelligence. It would lack meaning and purpose.
But this underlying dream-like thought system which we are hypothesizing must surely be kept in harmony with the higher logical and rational mental powers of humanity or else it will be woefully inadequate and steer us clearly astray. While giving us crucial insights into the good and the beautiful, and helping us in thoughtfully weighing the relative merits of alternative plans and objectives, and giving us a degree of creativity which we must surely highly value; nonetheless the dream like thought system lacks the higher powers of human logic and reason and must be steered by those very logical mental apparatus that mark us as human and not merely animal.
The full powers of our mental sub-systems must be used in harmony and fully integrated in order to rise to their destined heights, creating a synthesis of integrated vision logic which correctly values the true, the good and the beautiful simultaneously. This need to transcend the powers of any one mental sub-system, such as logic, or beauty, or emotions, seems clear to me. Perhaps it involves aspects of the right brain-left brain duality and specialization of purpose, but also other more subtle and as yet undiscovered specialized subsystems within the human mental machinery of the brain-body entity.
This is of course only the merest of introductions to a complex and interesting subject. One avenue of scientific investigation that has perhaps begun to hit upon some of the ideas and concepts involved in this area is the study of the effects of various brain diseases and injuries. Many remarkable outcomes have been noted in this area; including the left-right brain specializations and the amazing and inspiring ability of the brain to overcome various brain injuries by over compensation of injuries by utilizing other brain facilities and capabilities. The brain, like the body, and indeed like the human spirit, seems capable of marvelous and creative efforts of compensation, development and re-integration.
Just recently, I read about an inspiring artist in Berkeley California named Katherine Sherwood who unfortunately suffered a massive stroke at the age of 44 and who suffered paralysis of her right side. Showing an enormous effort of will and spiritual power, the formerly right handed painter learned to paint with her left hand. The surprising outcome is that her paintings are now judged by the art world as much better, more intuitive, more breathtaking. Her paintings gained some sort of power and clarity and are selling at much higher prices. Her career is in high speed and she is considerably more successful in her work, including a sense of worth in the paintings that she can feel within herself as well as by finding confirmation via their commercial success. Some intuitive, creative systems in her brain have been unfettered and are evidently expressing a vision of color, form and meaning which her more analytical and "intellectual" work lacked prior to the stroke. Interestingly, her first inspiration, after the stroke, which began to awaken her dormant creative abilities was her visceral reaction when viewing an x-ray angiogram of the blood vessel systems in her own brain at her radiologist's office, which formed a complex fractal visual pattern which reminded her of a 1000 year old Chinese landscape painting that was one of her personal favorites since before the stroke. The human mind-system is indeed a wonderful thing.
It is inspiring for us to contemplate how people have not only overcome difficulties but even transcended them. It reminds us of how life can be so frustrating if we dwell on every set back, every difficulty, every lack of perfection.
A most inspiring example is in the life of no less than our beloved Manifestation, Baha'u'llah. Though suffering torture, mistreatment, and imprisonment for much of His life, He transcended. Even when He was poisoned, causing permanent damage that left Him unable to continue to physically write down His own wonderfully beautiful words with His own hand, He continued to dictate His books and Tablets and created a body of written work which is unsurpassed in its excellence. This is a sobering aspect of His life for us to contemplate; how can we ever whine and worry about the difficulties and set backs which we experience when we are faced with the Example of His own life.
Even in the aggregate, social arena, human beings suffer set backs and problems. Sure, our social systems are not perfect and things could be better. But human social systems, like individual human mental systems, I suspect, have complex systems of sub-systems which are capable of remarkable creative and recuperative powers. In both our individual lives and in our social settings, we must sublimate our short comings and imperfections. In fact, imperfection breeds perfection, when we allow the inner resources of our vast heritage to guide us in an inspired, faithful way. It never ends; that we are bound by chance, reside in flux, and we die in our imperfections is our hope; for it leaves open possibilities.
The Tao of being Human is that we crave certainty, but our very
minds are organized around uncertainty. We long to arrive at our final destination,
but by the time we get there, it is time to move on. We yearn to stop the
world, for just a moment, so that we can get our bearings. But our very being
is, in essence, temporily based. We die each moment to a new re-birth. In
order to gain the future, we are crucified in the present. In order to grow,
we must sacrifice current capabilities and capacities, which were hard-won.
Though we desire perfection, we must glory in the imperfections which we
create and experience. Life moves on, something is always gained, something
is always lost. To sleep, perchance to dream; our dreams are the pattern
and the essence of our reality. If Joseph was a dreamer of dreams, he also
wore the multicolored coat and enabled and facilitated the salvation of his
brethren and the people of the land of Egypt. So dream on, and interpret
when we can; but always dream.
A dream is time placed in the mind
The Tao of being Human never rests