Sleep and Dreams

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There’s this one phenomenon I sometimes experience when I watch a show or a movie or play a video game or see a picture or come across a toy from when I was young, maybe before about age eight. I’ll get this strange feeling ― something like synesthesia or a concentrated burst of ambiance.

The following are examples of sources of this feel for me personally. They’re all from Disney movies, which hopefully makes them more relatable. All four involve taste synesthesia, and the example with the plump orange grub involves touch synesthesia too.

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It’s as if, as a young child, my imagination was so vivid that I ‘knew’ what these tasted like, and I’d ‘taste’ them in this certain faint way each time I’d see them. And I still do!

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[Pannenkoek] “I have it with this.”

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More generally, I’d imagine what it’d be like to taste and touch and smell lots of things in pictures and books and TV and video games. This is probably true of all of us ― that, as young children, our perception was naturally more synesthetic.

But this feeling I’m trying to describe doesn’t necessarily involve taste, touch, or smell synesthesia ― it goes beyond that. With other sources, I can’t think of a better way to describe the experience than a ‘concentrated burst of ambiance’.

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And I can’t create new sources of this kind of feeling, I can only relive existing ones ― like my brain doesn’t work that way anymore.

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“Memories made during early childhood ― back before our minds were ‘fully formed’ ― can take on a surreal quality that seems almost dreamlike.” [1]

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Hypnagogic cognition (the process of starting to fall asleep), in comparison with that of normal, alert wakefulness, is characterized by heightened suggestibility, illogic, and a fluid association of ideas.” [2]

“The first stage of the sleep cycle is a transition period between wakefulness and sleep. If you awaken someone during this stage, they’ll probably report that they weren’t actually asleep.” [3]

Pannenkoek gave the following analogy about the experience of being awoken from the earliest stage of sleep. “Imagine you’re at a social gathering on an empty field next to a forest. The social gathering represents wakefulness, with its fun social interactions and noisy stimuli, whereas the forest represents sleep, with its darker colors, solitude from people, and mysterious contents. At one point, you think you spot something near the edge of the forest, and so you leave the gathering to investigate. But without realizing it, you enter a sort of trance state and are now being led towards the forest by crafty forest spirits. Before you enter, however, someone from the gathering sees you and calls out to you. Suddenly, you come back to your senses, and the spirits around you quickly scatter back into the forest.”

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[4]

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Normal dreams (and most dreams) occur during REM sleep, but there’s a strange, rarely remembered exception to this.

“People awakened from non-REM dreams report that the dream was ‘boring’ or that they were only ‘thinking about something’.” [5]

I vividly remember once catching myself having just woken up from a non-REM dream. It was very eerie but also somehow familiar ― liked I’d experienced them before and then forgotten. The content of the dream is harder to describe than that of a normal dream. I knew I was in my bedroom (as if I were partially awake the whole time), but I was aware of this dreamlike ‘event’ taking place in it. Various dream characters were there ― some might’ve been talking animals or toys. What stood out most was that nothing was really happening in the dream ― it didn’t really have a plot. I was just aware of the presence of everyone and everything. Because of this, it felt incredibly boring ― almost painfully so ― and I was glad to have woken up from it.

If you keep an eye out for non-REM dreams, there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll catch yourself having just experienced one.

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[6]

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“In dreams, text usually changes if you look away from it, times on clocks usually don’t match up one with one another or with the amount of daylight outside, your reflection is often distorted, and light switches almost never work.”i[7]

When I first heard this supposed fact about light switches, I remember thinking that it just seemed too weird and specific to be true, and I wanted to test it myself. As far as I remember, in all the years since, there have only been two times where I’ve used a light switch in a dream, and both times it didn’t work. And neither time did I consider that it might have meant I was dreaming.

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“The Tetris effect occurs when you play a game for long enough that you begin to dream in the form of the game.” [8]

I can remember experiencing the Tetris effect with Melee, Ultimate, Halo, chess, and Go. I’ve even had a few dreams that were halfway between a match of Halo and a day at school ― something which if I hadn’t experienced it, I never would’ve imagined was possible. “I call them merger dreams.” [9]

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[10]

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There’s a special connection between ambiance and dreams.

In my experience, the ambiances of dreams are often especially strong or unusual. It’s possible (and maybe even the norm) to experience ambiances in dreams that you never would in waking life ― almost as if the space of ambiances it’s possible to feel enlarges. Both the eeriest ambiance I’ve ever experienced and the most beautiful ambiance I’ve ever experienced have been in dreams.

And the ambiance of a dream sometimes stays with you for a little while after you wake up.

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“A lucid dream is one in which you become aware that you’re dreaming.” [11]

In a way, I think it’s amazing that dreaming is even part of the human condition. It’s so easy to imagine living in a world where we only experienced dreamless sleep. And the fact that it’s possible to lucid dream is even more wonderful and astounding. It’s almost like we have the ability to like access a real-world version of The Matrix ― one that’s natural and isn’t ominous.

Although the majority of lucid dreams aren’t especially notable or interesting, they have the potential to be some of the most beautiful experiences in life.

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[12]

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There’s one kind of dream that’s even rarer and more wonderful than lucid dreams. I call them “divine dreams” and I can count the number I’ve had on one hand. They’re transcendently beautiful, towering above all others, and they leave an afterglow that can last days or even years. It’s possible to describe the events that took place in these dreams, but doing so never seems to do justice to what it was that made the them so special.

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Citations

  1. ~Soothsayerslayer
  2. Wikipedia’s Hypnagogia article
  3. (various sources)
  4. Rob Scotton
  5. (source lost)
  6. Vladmir Kush
  7. (source lost / various sources)
  8. Wikipedia’s Tetris Effect article
  9. Beth Emery
  10. Yosuke Ueno
  11. (various sources)
  12. Alexey Mikhaylov
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