Monthly Archives: August 2013

Low-gravity dreams evoke “real” memories

. . . when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o’er th’unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.

— Pope, Essay on Criticism

I have had dozens of dreams in which I seem to be less than ordinarily affected by gravity. The dreams always appear to take place on earth, and other things and people in the environment behave normally; only I (and occasionally a few other people) move as if in a low-gravity environment.

These dreams take two basic forms. In the more common of the two, I am walking and find that every step sends me sailing gently into the air, several meters up, and then slowly back down. I can move almost effortlessly this way; by simply “kicking off” from the ground a few times a minute, as one might do when using a playground swing, I can keep myself moving forward in great slow bounds. In the dreams, the thought that always accompanies this is: “I’d forgotten I could do this. I should do this more often.”

In the second form of the dream, I am in a supine position about 70 cm above the ground and am moving “forward” (that is, in a caudal direction). As in the jumping dreams, I have to “kick off” with one foot occasionally to maintain my speed, though in these dreams I am reminded more of a skateboard than a playground swing. In these dreams, unlike the others, I do not rise or fall; I stay at a constant distance from the ground, and kicking off serves only to give me a burst of forward speed, not to send me sailing up into the air.

In my slow-jumping dreams, I have an exhilarating sense of freedom, and at the apex of my leaps I enjoy looking down on the scenery (generally rolling green hills, dotted with trees). In the supine-skimming dreams, though, I often feel that I am going where I am “supposed to” go, following a leader who is walking ahead of me. I never see this leader, though, because I am always looking straight up at the sky — though I am somehow simultaneously aware of the ground (usually a hard gray surface) rushing past beneath my back.

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What makes these dreams unusual is that, upon waking, I am left with an unshakable conviction that they really happened. I don’t mean that I feel as if the dream itself had been real — the dream was obviously just a dream. However, I have a compelling feeling that the dream is reminding me of something I really experienced, that some long-forgotten memory from my real life has been jogged almost back into conscious recollection by the dream. I feel sure — my body feels sure — that somehow, somewhere, sometime, I really have moved that way, if only I could remember where or when. But, rack my brain how I may, I can never quite retrieve those elusive memories. I am left with an unsatisfying certainty that somehow those dreams must be about something “real,” but without being able to explain how they possibly could be.

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Luther (not that Luther) on the problems of agency

My brother Luther has a series of posts up which address the problem I outlined in my post “Incompatible propositions“: that meaningful agency seems to entail the ability to do serious irreversible damage, and that this is inconsistent with the hope that everything will be all right in the end. Luther’s three posts on the subject are:

I’ve been mulling over Luther’s ideas, as well as Bruce Charlton’s comments on the original post, and may post further on the subject if/when I have any additional insight.

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George MacDonald’s vision of outer darkness

This is from George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons. I have nothing to say about it except that it rings true, truer than anything in Dante.

I think I have seen from afar something of the final prison of all, the innermost cell of the debtor of the universe; I will endeavor to convey what I think it may be.

It is the vast outside; the ghastly dark beyond the gates of the city of which God is the light — where the evil dogs go ranging, silent as the dark, for there is no sound any more than sight. The time of signs is over. Every sense has its signs, and they were all misused: there is no sense, no sign more — nothing now by means of which to believe. The man wakes from the final struggle of death, in absolute loneliness — such a loneliness as in the most miserable moment of deserted childhood he never knew. Not a hint, not a shadow of anything outside his consciousness reaches him. All is dark, dark and dumb; no motion — not the breath of a wind! never a dream of change! not a scent from far-off field! nothing to suggest being or things besides the man himself, no sign of God anywhere. God has so far withdrawn from the man, that he is conscious only of that from which he has withdrawn. In the midst of the live world he cared for nothing but himself; now in the dead world he is in God’s prison, his own separated self. He would not believe in God because he never saw God; now he doubts if there be such a thing as the face of a man — doubts if he ever really saw one, ever anything more than dreamed of such a thing: — he never came near enough to human being, to know what human being really was — so may well doubt if human beings ever were, if ever he was one of them.

Next after doubt comes reasoning on the doubt: “The only one must be God! I know no one but myself: I must myself be God — none else!” Poor helpless dumb devil! — his own glorious lord god! Yea, he will imagine himself that same resistless force which, without his will, without his knowledge, is the law by which the sun burns, and the stars keep their courses, the strength that drives all the engines of the world. His fancy will give birth to a thousand fancies, which will run riot like the mice in a house but just deserted: he will call it creation, and his. Having no reality to set them beside, nothing to correct them by; the measured order, harmonious relations, and sweet graces of God’s world nowhere for him; what he thinks, will be, for lack of what God thinks, the man’s realities: what others can he have! Soon, misery will beget on imagination a thousand shapes of woe, which he will not be able to rule, direct, or even distinguish from real presences — a whole world of miserable contradictions and cold-fever-dreams.

But no liveliest human imagination could supply an adequate representation of what it would be to be left without a shadow of the presence of God. If God gave it, man could not understand it: he knows neither God nor himself in the way of the understanding. For not he who cares least about God was in this world ever left as God could leave him. I doubt if any man could continue following his wickedness from whom God had withdrawn. [. . .]

I suppose the man so left that he seems to himself utterly alone, yet, alas! with himself — smallest interchange of thought, feeblest contact of existence, dullest reflection from other being, impossible: in such evil case I believe the man would be glad to come in contact with the worst-loathed insect: it would be a shape of life, something beyond and besides his own huge, void, formless being! I imagine some such feeling in the prayer of the devils for leave to go into the swine. His worst enemy, could he but be aware of him, he would be ready to worship. For the misery would be not merely the absence of all being other than his own self, but the fearful, endless, unavoidable presence of that self.

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Ambigram: More light

Reportedly Goethe’s last words:

More light

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Two unlikely songs that always put me in a good mood

“Rocky Road to Dublin” as performed by the Serbian band Orthodox Celts. You’d think actual Irishmen would be the best at performing this song, but I’ve yet to find an Irish vocalist who can sing it as well as Aleksandar Petrović.

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“Wagon Wheel,” an unfinished song of Bob Dylan’s, later finished by the Old Crow Medicine Show, and subsequently covered by Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish. I didn’t expect to like this, since Hootie and the Blowfish aren’t nearly as good as OCMS, and of course neither act is even in the same league as Dylan, but it works surprisingly well. If greatness is essentially depth, then I suppose this particular division of labor — skin by Hootie, flesh by OCMS, bones by the Mighty Quinn himself — makes sense.

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