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Why We Dream (International Congress on Neurology and Brain Disorders)

Uploaded 3/13/2019, approx. 34 minute read

Dear colleagues, my name is Sam Vaknin, and I am a professor of psychology in the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, the Russian Federation. I am also a professor of finance and a professor of psychology in CIAS-CIAPS, the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies. I have authored the book Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, among other books on personality disorders. Welcome to the International Congress on Neurology and Brain Disorders, September 2019, London, the United Kingdom. Today I would like to talk to you about dreams. Are dreams a source of reliable divination? Generation upon generation seem to have thought so. They incubated dreams by travelling afar, by fasting, by engaging in all other manner of self-deprivation or intoxication.

Today we have the modern variant which is lucid dreaming. With the exception of this highly dubious role though, dreams do seem to have three important functions at least.

The first one is to process repressed memories, wishes in foreign speech, and other mental content which was suppressed and stored in the unconscious during the day.

The second role is to autify and generally pigeonholed conscious experiences of the day or days preceding the dreaming. These are known as day residues.

A partial overlap with the formal function is inevitable. Some sensory input is immediately relegated to the darker and dimmer kingdoms of the subconscious and unconscious without being consciously processed at all.

The third function is to stay in touch with the outside world. External sensory input is interpreted by the dream, incorporated in the dream and represented in its unique language of symbols and disjunction, surrealistic language.

Research has shown this to be a rare event though and this is independent of the timing of a stimuli. Whether the stimulus is delivered during sleep or immediately prior in the hypnagogic or the hypnopompic stages, it is still very rarely incorporated in the dream.

When it does happen, it seems that even when the interpretation is dead wrong, the substantial information is preserved.

So a collapsing bedpost, as in Morrie's famous dream, will become a French guillotine, for example.

The message is concerned. There is a physical danger to the neck and head in both cases.

All three functions are, in my view, a part of a much bigger one.

The continuous adjustment of the model one has of oneself and of one's place in the world to the incessant stream of sensory external input and of mental internal input. This modification of the model is carried out through an intricate, symbol-laden dialogue between the dreamer and himself. It probably also has therapeutic side benefits. It would be a normal simplification to say that the dream carries messages, even if we were to limit it to correspondence with oneself.

The dream does not seem to be in a position of privileged information or privileged knowledge. The dream functions more like a good friend would.

The dream listens, advises, shares, experiences, provides access to remote territories of the mind, puts events in perspective and in proportion, and sometimes provokes.

The dream induces relaxation and acceptance and a better functioning of the client. It does so mostly by analyzing discrepancies and incompatibilities.

No wonder that it is mostly associated with bad emotions, anger, hurt, fear.

This also happens in the course of successful psychotherapy. Exactly the same thing.

And so defenses are gradually dismantled and a new, more functional view of the world is established via the dream or via the therapeutic process.

This is a painful and a frightening process. This function of the dream is more in line with Jung's view of dreams as compensatory.

The previous three functions are complementary and therefore they are more Freudian.

It would seem that we are all constantly engaged in maintenance, in preserving that which exists and inventing new strategies for coping.

We are all in constant psychotherapy administered by ourselves to ourselves day in and night out.

Dreaming is just the awareness of this ongoing process and it's simple in content.

We are more susceptible, vulnerable and open to dialogue while we sleep normally.

The dissonance between how we regard ourselves and what we really are and between our, let's say, expectations and dreams as incorporated in the model of the world, in the model of reality.

This dissonance is so enormous that it calls for a continuous routine of evaluation, mending and reinvention. Otherwise the solidifies might crumble. The delicate balance between us, the dreamers, and the world might be shattered, leaving us defenseless and dysfunctional.

To be effective, dreams must come equipped with the key to their interpretation.

We all seem to possess an intuitive copy of just such a key uniquely tailored to our needs, to our data and to our circumstances.

This areocritica helps us to decipher the true and motivating meaning of the dialogue.

This is one reason why dreaming is discontinuous. Time must be given to interpret and to assimilate the new model preferred by the dream.

Four to six sessions of dreaming take place in a typical night. A session missed will be held the night after.

If a person is prevented from dreaming on a permanent basis, he will become irritated, neurotic and then psychotic.

In other words, the person's model of himself and of the world will no longer be tenable and usable. It will be out of sync. It will represent both reality and the non-dreamer wrongly.

To put it more succinctly, it seems that the famous reality test used in psychology to set apart the functioning normal individuals from those who are not.

Reality test is maintained by dreaming. Dreaming helps us to separate internal objects from external objects.

The reality test fast deteriorates when dreaming becomes impossible.

This link between the correct apprehension of reality, model, psychosis and dreaming has yet to be explored in depth.

But I can make a few predictions.


First of all, the dream mechanism is of paramount importance. It's often pretty neglected.

The dream mechanism and or dream contents of psychotics must be substantially different and distinguished from the dream mechanism and dream content of healthy people.

Their dreams must be dysfunctional, unable to tackle the pleasant bad emotional residue of coping with reality. Psychotic dialogue must be disturbed. They must be represented rigidly in their dreams. The reality must not be present in these dreams at all.

So studying the dreaming of psychotics is of crucial importance.

Second thing, most of the dreams most of the time probably deal with mundane matters. The content must not be exotic, surrealistic or extraordinary or hyper realistic. Dreams must be changed to the dreamers reality, these daily problems, people that he knows, situations that he had encountered or is likely to encounter, dilemmas that he's facing and conflicts that he would have liked resolved.

This indeed is the case. Unfortunately, this is heavily disguised by the simple language of the dream and by the disjointed, disjunctive, dissociative, what manner in which in which it proceeds jerkily.

But a clear separation must be made between subject matter, mostly mundane, dull, relevant to the dreamers life and the script or mechanism of dreaming.

The mechanism involves colorful symbology, discontinuity of space and time, disjointed purposeful action, inversion of cause and effect. So very creative.

And so the dreamer must be the main protagonist of his dreams, the hero of his dreaming narratives.

This overwhelmingly is indeed the case. Dreams are egocentric. They are concerned mostly with a patient. And they use other figures, settings, local situations to cater to the dreamers needs to reconstruct his reality test and to adapt it to the new input from outside and from within.


The fourth assumption is that if dreams are mechanisms which adopt the model of the world and the reality test to daily inputs, we should find a difference between dreamers and dreams in different societies and different cultures.

The more information heavy the culture, the more the dreamer is compounded with messages and data, the fiercer should the dream activity be.

We can even say that dreaming is a culture bound activity. Every external data likely to generate a shower of internal data should manifest in dreaming.

And so dreamers in the West should engage in a qualitatively different type of dreaming. We will elaborate on this as we continue.

Suffice it to say at this stage, the dreams in information cluttered societies, such as ours, employ more symbols, weave them more intricately, and the dreams are much more erratic and discontinuous.

As a result, dreamers in information-rich societies never mistake a dream for reality. They never confuse the two.

In information poor cultures and societies where most of the daily inputs are actually internal, such confusion between dream and reality arises very often.

It is even enshrined in religion or in the prevailing theories regarding the world.

The famous story, am I a man dreaming that is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that is a man?

Anthropology confirms that this indeed is the case. In information poor societies, dreams are less symbolic, less erratic, more continuous, more real. And the dreamers often tend to fuse the two, dream and reality, into one whole and act upon this whole.

Reality tests in information poor societies includes dreaming as a part of reality.

To complete their mission successfully, and remember the mission is adaptation to the world using the model of reality by modifying.

So to complete this mission successfully, dreams must make themselves felt. They must interact with the dreamer's real world, with his behavior in it, with his moods that bring his behavior about.

In short, dreams must be an integral part of the whole mental apparatus.

Dreams seem to do exactly this. They are remembered in about half of all cases.

The results are probably achieved without need for cognitive conscious processing in the other unremembered or disremembered cases.

Dreams greatly influence the immediate mood after awakening. They are discussed, interpreted. They force people to think and rethink. Dreams are dynamos of internal and external dialogue long after they have faded into the recesses of the mind.

Sometimes dreams directly influence actions, and many people firmly believe in the quality of the advice provided by dreams.

In this sense, dreams are inseparable part of reality.

In many celebrated cases, dreams even induced works of art, inventions, or scientific discoveries.

But think for a minute. What are works of art? What are scientific discoveries and what are inventions?

They are all adaptations of all defunct reality models and modifying these models, creating new ones.

This is precisely what dreams do.

So dreaming would be intimately connected to creative acts, to art, to science, to literature, to thinking.

In numerous documented cases, dreams tackled head-on issues that bothered dreamers during their waking hours, in the case of the benzene molecule.

So how does this theory that dreaming is a mechanism for adapting the model of reality? How does this theory fit with the hard facts?

Dreaming is also known as D state or D activity. It is associated with a special movement of the eyes under the closed eyelids, and this special movement is called rapid eye movement, or REM.

Dreaming is also associated with changes in the pattern of electrical activity of the brain, electroencephalograph, EEG.

A dreaming person has the pattern of someone who is wide awake and alert. This seems to sit well with the theory of dreams as active therapists engage in the arduous task of incorporating new, often contradictory, incompatible information into an elaborate personal model of the self and the reality that it occupies.

There are two types of dreams, visual dreams, and they are thought-like dreams, cognitive dreams, if you wish. The cognitive ones leave an impression of having been awake on the dreamer.

The cognitive dreaming happens without any REM or EEG changes.

It seems that the model adjustment activities require abstract thinking, reclassification, taxonomic activity, theorizing, predicting, testing, construction of theory, a theory of mind, and a theory of the world.

The relationship is very much like the one that exists between intuition and formalism, aesthetics and scientific discipline, feeling and thinking, mentally creating and committing one's creation to a specific rigid medium.

All mammals exhibit the same REM EEG patterns and may therefore be dreaming as well. Some birds do it as well.

Dreaming seems to be associated with a brain stem, the pontine pigmentum, and with the secretion of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain.

The rhythm of breathing and the pulse rate change, the skeletal muscles are relaxed to the point of paralysis, presumably to prevent injury if the dreamer will decide to engage in actually enacting his dream. Blood flows to the genitals and induces penile erections in male dreamers. The uterus contracts and the muscles at the base of the tongue enjoy a relaxation in electrical activity.

These facts would indicate that dreaming is a very primordial activity. It is essential to survival. It is not necessarily connected to higher functions like speech, but it seems to be somehow related to reproduction and to the biochemistry of the brain.

The construction of a worldview, a model of reality, is as critical to the survival of an ape as it is to our survival, and the mentally disturbed and the mentally retarded dream as much as normal people do.

Such a model of reality can be innate and genetic in very simple forms of life because the amount of information that needs to be incorporated is limited by definition.

But beyond a certain amount of information, environmental information, that the individual is likely to be exposed to daily, there are two new needs, emergent needs.

The first is to maintain the model of the world by eliminating noise and by realistically incorporating negating data.

The second need is to pass on the function of modeling and remodeling to a much more flexible structure to the brain.

In a way, dreams are about the constant generation, construction, and testing of theories.

Popper would have loved it. It's a form of falsification.

And this ongoing activity regards the dreamer and his ever-changing internal and external environments.

Dreams are the scientific community of the self. That men carried it further in invented scientific activity on a larger external scale is no wonder.

Physiology also tells us the differences between dreaming and other hallucinatory states like nightmares, psychosis, sleepwalking, daydreaming, hallucinations, illusions, or merely imagining something.

The REM EEG patterns in all these other activities are absent and the latter states are much less real. Dreams are mostly set in familiar places. They obey the laws of nature, contrary to misinformation.

At the very least, they obey some inner logic. Their hallucinatory nature is a hermeneutic imposition. It derives mainly from their erratic abrupt behavior, space, time, and goal discontinuities.

But this is one of the elements in hallucinations. Hallucinations have many more characteristics which are absent in dreams.

Why is dreaming conducted while we sleep? Why not while we're awake?

Well, probably there is something in it which requires what sleep has to offer, a limitation of external sensory inputs, especially visual ones. And this perhaps is the reason why dreams have a compensatory, very strong visual element to try to offset the missing visual input.

An artificial environment is sought in order to maintain this periodical self-imposed deprivation, static state, and reduction in bodily functions.

In the last six to seven hours of every sleep session, 40% of people wake up. About 40%, probably the same dreamers, report that they had a dream in the relevant light.

As we descend into sleep, the hypnagogic state, and as we emerge from sleep, the hypnopompic state, we all have visual dreams that are different.

It is as though we are thinking these dreams. They have no emotional core of it. They are transient, undeveloped, and abstract, and expressly deal with the day's residues. They are the garbage collectors, the sanitation department of the brain.

Day residues, which clearly do not need to be processed by dreams, are swept under the carpet of consciousness, maybe even erased.

Physiologically, there's a whole drainage system which carries literal trash, broken molecules, used up materials, waste products from the brain to the spine during the night. This may be, still needs to be studied, but this drainage, waste disposal operation, which is a physical activity, maybe the physiological correlate or equivalent of dreaming.

Suggestible people dream what they have been instructed to dream in hypnosis, but not what they have been so instructed while partly awake, and under direct suggestion.

This further demonstrates the independence of the dream mechanism. It almost does not react to external sensory stimuli while in operation. It takes an almost complete suspension of judgment in order to influence the contents of dreams. It would not seem to point at another important feature of dreams, their economy.

Dreams are subject to four articles of faith which govern all phenomena of life.

Number one is homeostasis, the preservation of the internal environment, an equilibrium between different but interdependent elements which make up the whole.

Second, equilibrium, maintenance of an internal environment in balance with an external one.

Third, optimization, also known as efficiency, the securing of maximum results with minimum investment resources and minimum damage to other resources not directly used in the process.

And perhaps the most important one is parsimony, also known as Occam's razor, the utilization of a minimal set of mostly known assumptions, constraints, boundary conditions, symbols, and initial conditions in order to achieve maximum explanatory or modeling power.

Sorry, in compliance with the above four principles, dreams had to resort to visual symbols. The visual is the most condensed and efficient form of packaging information. A picture is worth a thousand words. The same goes.

Studies have supported this. And computer users know that to store images requires more memory than any other type of data.

But dreams have an unlimited capacity of information processing at their disposal, the brain at night. In dealing with gigantic amounts of information, the natural preference when processing power is not limited would be to use visuals.

Moreover, non-isomorphic polyvalent forms will be preferred. In other words, symbols that can be mapped to more than one meaning, symbols that have more than one meaning, and symbols that carry a host of other associated symbols and meanings with them, these symbols would be preferred. They're like shorthand.

So symbols hold a great amount of information. Most of it is stored in the recipient's brain and provoked by the symbol.

This is a little like the Java applets in modern programming. The application is divided to small modules which are stored in the central computer. The symbols generated by the user's computer, again using the Java programming language, provoke these to surface. The result is a major simplification of the processing terminal, the NetPC, and an increase in its cost efficiency.

I hope the metaphor is not lost, at least on your computer-savvy listeners.

Both collective symbols and private symbols are used in dreams. Jung would have been very happy with this discovery. Collective symbols, Jung's archetypes, prevent the need to reinvent the wheel. They are assumed to constitute a universal language usable by dreamers everywhere, regardless by the way of culture and society.

The dreaming brain has therefore to attend to and to process only the semi-private language elements and the culture-bound and society-bound elements. This is less time-consuming, and the conventions of a universal language apply to the communication between the dream and the dreaming.

Even the discontinuities have arisen. A lot of the information that we absorb and process is either noise or repetitive. This fact is known to the authors of all the file compression applications in the world.

Computer files can be compressed to one-tenth the size without appreciably losing any information. It means that 90% of the information is trash, not needed, redundant, repetitive.

The same principle is applied in speed reading, skimming the unnecessary bits, getting straight to the point.

So the dream employs the same principles. It skims, it gets straight to the point, it zips, it compresses, and from the point it gets yet to another point.

And this creates sensation of being erratic, of a brackness, of the absence of spatial or in temporal smoothness, logic, or purposefulness.

But this also serves the same purpose, actually, to succeed to finish the herculean task of refitting the model of the self, the model of the world, these theories of mind and theory of world, in one night.

This all has to be done in one night.

So the brain skips a lot of redundant information, a lot of trash, a lot of repetition, a lot of noise. It filters it out. It uses sophisticated filtering.

And it skips from one data point to the next. A little like quantum tunneling, the particle disappears and suddenly reappears, not having crossed any space in between.

This dreaming is conscious tunneling, where the consciousness hops like on pebbles in the shore, hops from one data point to another, without having crossed anything in between.

Hence, the disjointedness, discontinuity of dreaming.

Thus, the selection of visuals, symbols and collective symbols, and of the discontinuous mode of presentation, the preference of alternative models, methods of presentation, representation.

These are not accidental. This is the most economic and unambiguous way of representation.

And therefore, the most efficient, most in compliance with the four aforementioned principles.

In cultures and societies with a mass of information to be processed is less mountainous. These features are less likely to occur.

Indeed, dreaming in primitive societies is much more narrative like, much more story like. Dreams are by far the most mysterious phenomenon in mental life.

On the face of it, dreaming is a colossal waste of energy and psychic resources. Dreams carry no overt information content. They bear little resemblance to reality. They interfere with most critical biological maintenance function, sleep. They don't seem to be goal generated. They have no discernible objective. They make us feel bad very often.

In this age of technology and precision, efficiency and optimization, dreams seem to be a somewhat anachronistically quaint relic of our life in the savannah.

Scientists are people who believe in the aesthetic preservation of resources. They believe that nature is intrinsically optimal, as harmonious, and in this sense, beautiful in lives.

Scientists dream of symmetries, models of nature, minimalist theories. They believe that everything is a reason and a purpose.

In scientific approach to dreams and dreaming, scientists commit all these scenes combined. They anthropomorphize nature. They engage in theological explanations. They attribute purpose and paths to dreams, aesthetic values, where there might be none.

So they say that dreaming is a maintenance function, the processing of the preceding day's experiences. Or the scientists say that it keeps the sleeping person alert and aware of this environment.

But no one knows for sure. We dream. No one knows why. We are dreaming beings. Dreams have elements in common with dissociation, with hallucinations. But they are neither.

They employ visuals because this is the most efficient way of hacking and transferring information.

But what information?

Freud's interpretation of dreams is a mere literary exercise. It is not a serious scientific work, which does not detract from its awesome penetration and beauty, of course.

I've lived in Africa. I've lived in the Middle East, North America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe. Dreams fulfill different societal functions and have distinct cultural roles in each of these civilizations.

In Africa, dreams are perceived to be a mode of communication as real as the internet is to us. Dreams are pipelines through which messages flow. Flow from the beyond, life after death, for example. Or from other people, such as shamans, remember Castaneda. Or flow, dream, convey messages from the collective, Jung, from reality, and this is the closest to Western interpretation, from the future, very cognitive dreams, or from assault and divinity.

These are all attempts to relate to dreams in these cultures.

The distinction between dream states and reality is very blurred in places like Africa. People act on messages contained in dreams as they would on any other information they obtain in their waking hours.

This state of affairs is quite the same, Middle East and Eastern Europe, where dreams constitute an integral and important part of institutionalized religion and the subject of serious analysis or contemplation.

In North America, the most narcissistic of these cultures, dreams have been construed as communications within the dreaming person. Dreams no longer mediate between the person and his environment, but between different constructs and representations, inner objects, internal objects, and interjects inside the person.

They are the representation of interactions between different structures of the self.

The role of dreaming in the West is therefore far more limited, and their interpretation is far more arbitrary and impoverished, in my view, because it is highly dependent on personal circumstances and the psychology of a specific criminal.

I propose narcissism.

In many respects, narcissism is a dream state. The narcissist is totally detached from his human milieu, devoid of empathy and obsessively centered on the procurement of narcissistic supply, attention, adulation, admiration. The narcissist is unable to regard other people as three-dimensional beings, whether one needs, who writes, wishes, preferences, priorities, lives, and emotions.

And this mental picture of narcissism can easily serve as a good description of the dream state, where other people are mere representations or symbols in a hermeneutically sealed thought system.

Both narcissism and dreaming are autistic states, or more precisely sort of cystic states of mind, with severe cognitive and emotional distortions.

By extension, one can talk about narcissistic cultures as dream cultures, doomed to a wound awakening.

It is interesting to note that most narcissists I know from my work have a very poor dream-like dream life and dreamscape. They remember almost nothing of their dreams and are rarely, if ever, motivated by insights contained in their dreams.

Perhaps the reason is that narcissists are in a constant dream state anyhow, even when they are so called awake. The internet is the sudden and voluptuous embodiment of dreams. It is too good to be true.

So in many ways it isn't. I think mankind, at least in the rich industrialized countries, is moonstruck. It serves this beautiful white landscape in suspended disbelief. It holds its breath as the internet unfolds almost autonomically.

People don't dare believe and don't believe the hopes and escapes presented by the internet. The internet has therefore become a collective phantasm at times a dream, at times a nightmare.

Entrepreneurship involves massive amounts of dreaming, of course, daydreaming and dreaming. And the internet is pure entrepreneurship. We are all entering a kind of dream state.

In 2010 there was a movie called Inception which presented a series of concepts related to dreaming. In the film Inception, Don't Call a Character is an extractor. He steals confidential information by hacking into a subject's brain during a dream and calling the victim into disclosing his offer of secrets.

This intellectually challenging and visually captivating film makes a series of assumptions about dreaming, none of which withstands close scrutiny.

It gives us to study this movie in depth as a way of closing my argument.

The dream starts by assuming that it would be possible to share dreams.

The movie starts, I'm sorry, by assuming that it would be at one time in the future it would be possible to share dreams, dream sharing.

The film's fundamental assumption is that dreams are objective entities, akin to buildings, for example, whose existence is independently observed and are therefore accessible to all in sundry.

But dreams are highly subjective experiences, they're not objective. External and internal cues are interpreted by and integrated into complex, shape-shifting and highly idiosyncratic neural networks, resident in the head of the dreaming individual.

One cannot tap into another person's subjectivity, thoughts, emotions, dreams, even in principle.

And this is of course the infamous problem of intersubjectivity. While we can communicate and discuss our inner world, meta-representation, meta-face, meta-physics, if you wish, of our internal world, we cannot share it in any meaningful sense.

We cannot invite visitors or tourists into our inner landscape.

Lucid and directed dreaming is possible, but dream sharing is not.

If we were to enter someone else's mind, we would merely experience our reactions to her mind, not her mind itself.

Intersubjectivity is defined by the Oxford companion to philosophy, this way.

Intersubjectivity refers to the state of being somehow accessible to at least two, usually all in principle, minds, or subjectivities.

It thus implies that there is some sort of communication between those minds, which in turn implies that each communicating mind is aware not only of the existence of the other minds, but also of its intention to convey information to the other minds.

The idea for theorists is that if subjective processes can be brought into agreement, then perhaps that is as good as the unattainable status of being objective, completely independent of subjectivity.

The question facing such theorists is whether intersubjectivity is definable without presupposing an objective environment in which communication takes place.

So there must be some kind of wiring between A and B.

At a less fundamental level, however, the need for intersubjective verification of scientific hypotheses has been long recognized.

Intersubjectivity is a barrier.

We have a theory of mind about other people's minds, and of course we assume that they have minds.

But this is all very solipsistic and very arbitrary.


The second assumption in the movie is confusion between defenses and dreams.

The film cannot make up its mind.

Quok tells the aptly named Ariadne, the architect, the dream designer, that the dreaming person's defenses are down, and all vigilance is gone. And this vulnerability is what makes it possible to extract, it makes possible the art of extraction, and renders counter-extraction a necessity, such as neurosecurity, defensive tactics against thieving extractors such as Quok.

Yet throughout the movie, the invaded subject's subconscious, should be of course unconscious, keeps attacking the extraction team. It keeps sending out hostile environment and murderous projections, to eliminate the extractors.

Quok even compares these apparitions to white blood cells. So which is it in a dream state?

Defenses down or defenses at a maximum?

As Freud, the surrealist and dadaist, knew well, dreams are audio-visual manifestations of the unconscious, the seat of all psychological defense mechanisms.

In dreams, we are not under-vigilant, but hyper-vigilant.

In dreams, we are paranoid. One cannot compare the subject to revealed secrets, even under hypnosis, let alone while dreaming.

Moreover, dreams provide access only to the unconscious, but secrets reside exclusively in the conscious part of the mind.

The extractors are looking for confidential information in the wrong place.

Finally, dreams use symbols and representations. They require interpretation.

Even the most pedestrian information is thoroughly encrypted using a highly idiosyncratic, private language.

The film ERS makes a mistake in that it depicts dreams as merely augmented reality over each of a highly imaginative and creative sort.

But dreams are not augmented reality. Dreams are coded messages, not representations of the world.

In this sense, every dreaming person is a solipsist and an extraterrestrial alien with a language all his own.

The movie deals with the issue of waking up and the stability of dreams immediately following wake up.

In the film, there are only two or three methods of terminating the dream state and waking up.

In reality, the repertory of what makes us wake up is infinite, unlimited. We wake up for hundreds of reasons, including metabolic processes, pain, environmental stimuli, anxiety, compulsive thinking, intrusive thoughts, circadian awareness, habits, fears, you name it.

Dreams are highly unstable states. So unstable, in effect, that many scholars believe that this precisely is the role of dreaming to keep us alert on our toes even as we sleep.

The use of sedatives as in the film actually suppresses dreaming, making them highly counterproductive as far as the extractors are concerned.

And then in the movie, there's a dream time dimension. And this is a long discarded myth.

Dream time is roughly equal to real time. One hour in a dream translates to one hour in reality.

It is true, though, that the laws of physics are sometimes suspended while we dream. Distances contract or vanish, for instance.

And this gives the erroneous impression of time dilation. The movie raises an interesting issue of totems.

And the reality is the film warns against the blurring of boundaries and distinctions between dream and reality, especially if one leverages one's memories in the framework of lucid dreaming and incorporates them in the design of new phantasmagoreas.

The film seems to imply or seems to put us on notice that dreamers may use the reality test and remain unable to tell the two states apart. They wouldn't know if they are dreaming or awake.

To guard against this ominous psychosis, extractors use totems, objects whose behavior is different in a dream to their true and everyday conduct.

Cobb carries a spinning top, which in his dreams never stops spinning, an oddity which informs him of his slumber state, of course. So if the top doesn't stop spinning, it is undreaming.

While it is true that objects acquire unfamiliar, even outlandish properties and behaviors in our dreams, their deviations and abnormal characteristics vary from one dream instance to another, and they are utterly unpredictable.

In one dream, the spinning top will spin forever, but in another dream, it will refuse to spin at all, and in a third dream, it will turn into a dove.

Totems, therefore, would be useless as a litmus test. Far better to use a classic reality check.

Try to go through a solid object, levitate, look at the face of an unknown clock, or flick a light switch on and off.

Moreover, it is not strictly true that all dreams feel real. Some dreams do, some dreams don't.

We often know that we are dreaming, and even when we are in the throes of an unfolding visual narrative that is inexorable, we sometimes test ourselves in the dream, or even will ourselves to wake up.

This ability to tell dreams from reality is in the heart of our certainty, of which is which.

Nor is it universally true that dreams have no discernible or remembered beginning, and that we find ourselves inexplicably immersed in them.

The professional literature contains numerous descriptions of dreams with neat beginnings. More often, dreams lack an ending. These absent resolutions and closures provoke an illicitness, psychodynamic processes which are conducive to personal transformation, to growth, even to healing.

There is the issue of nested dreams.

False awakening, a dream within a dream, is a documented, albeit rare, phenomenon.

The dreamer usually dreams that he is waking up, but is actually a dream.

There are three caveats, though.

One, most nested dreams occur in familiar surroundings, one's bed, home, workplace.

Two, the nested dreams share subject matter, some continuity, a narrative, plot, storyline.

And number three, invariably the dreamer realizes that he is dreaming.

Only the second condition is met to a limited extent in the film Inception.

But what's the connection between dreaming, creation, discovery, and inspiration? I alluded to it at the beginning of my presentation.

And in the movie, everyone around Corbin sees that Inception implanting an idea in someone's dreaming mind so that he feels that he has come up with it once he wakes up.

Inception is an impossibility. Dreaming, Arthur says, involves pure creation. It is a process that feels like discovery or inspiration rather than the laborious and tedious constructs that we come up with when we are awake.

Corb tells Zaryadni that our brain is far more active and far more efficiently deployed when we dream, which, by the way, is completely untrue, judging by brainwave activity.

According to these cinematic extractors, implanted ideas would therefore feel alien, absent the essential experiences of discovery and inspiration.

The subject is bound to react with violence and aggression to the dimly perceived invasion in mind or dream-snatching.

It is extracted in Tim's job to avoid these defenses against intrusion by convincing the subject that the foreign idea that they had implanted in his mind is actually his idea.

I can't say more because I'm not a spoiler. And the movie is worth every minute of your time.

But can we really make the distinction between our ideas and ideas that we have been exposed to and absorbed, ideas whose source is external?

How often do we plagiarize unconsciously? Is this taxonomy of endogenous versus exogenous ideation correct?

The answer is a resounding no. We cannot reliably attribute our ideas to their various sources and we cannot credibly tell their origins.

Nor do we try to actually. We assimilate means and make them ours because such plagiarism has survival value not only to us as individuals but to the species.

The unhindered dissemination of strange notions, to borrow Sato's phrase in the film, this unhindered dissemination has untold beneficial effects as any internet addict will attest.

Furthermore, inspiration and intuition are often cloaked as reasoning and rationalization.

We feel that certain discoveries, certain theories, certain works of art are the outcomes of our toil and rational investment even when they are actually the tip of an unconscious iceberg.

Dreams are no different. When we are in the dreams, we obey this or that logic.

We construct theories about our environment, events, other actions, and about ourselves.

We assume ownership of our ideas and actions regardless of the source.

We are alive in the dreams.

We never bother to stop or ask the absurd and unanswerable question, wait a minute, whose idea was this in the first place?

And so the premise on which the entire film is built is dubious because we continue our life seamlessly when we dream.

Thank you for listening.

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