Alice was playing with her Kitty cat until she drifted off to sleep and tumbled into a strange dream from which she awoke with questions. William Blake probably had a rich dream world too considering his extraordinary art and poetry, and perhaps quantum mechanics owes its inspiration to some out-of-this-world dreams experienced by great scientists. Is there any time of day more weird or full of creative power than the hypnopompic transition from dreaming sleep to wakefulness?If my experience of dream time is the common stock, we are like actors in our own theater where we play the leading part in a drama or tragedy, but rarely in comedy. Often the actor has an impression of being paralyzed at a crucial moment when he or she needs to fight or flight to save themselves, only to be rescued from panic by gratefully re-emerging to consciousness. But I suspect that some dark scenes lurking in the underground of memory are rehearsed again and again in dreams and carried over to seize our fears. I wish we could erase bad dreams because I suspect they might evolve into phobias to cripple us—I mean arachnophobia, agoraphobia, my acrophobia (thankfully mild), and so on. I admit I never trawled the psychology literature to check this theory, which may be no more than a fancy based on personal experience.
Most of my dreams vanish from memory while lying on the pillow rubbing bleary eyes. They are like the evanescent morning mist hanging over the meadow before I go downstairs to breakfast. I wish I could recall the best of the bunch before dreams of genius fade in the morning light! Unfortunately, it is the dark dreams I most remember, and one recurs in the same setting rather too frequently. I feel the ground coming up as I look down from the ledge of a skyscraper or as I teeter at a cliff edge. Perhaps the repetition of standing at squeamish heights in the night spills into a corresponding anxiety in waking hours, causing an irrational fear whenever I draw near to a precipice even if a barrier prevents me from falling over. Only when I used to descend into the black heart of a pothole in my speleological days was I fearless about the drop, but then I couldn’t see the bottom. Although phobias are often unexplained, I think mine is a meme innocently passed down by parental projection to haunt me.
I tried hard to remember my last dream today before waking, and took notes on a bedside pad to backup my memory. It was a sweet dream of familiar people and places: I was talking with my late mother and father in Edinburgh. Although plainly recognized, the images were not rendered very faithfully to life, but isn’t that often so? While in that groggy neverland between the dream and full consciousness I tried to interpret its meaning, and there is of course the obvious explanation that I miss my parents. But instead of breaking off to clear my fuzzy head with a cup-of-tea, my mind started wandering along an outlandish avenue. What if, instead of only reverberating circuits in my frontal lobes, the images were matched by a reality in a remote dimension beyond my ken? I don’t mean the dear but timid hope of my parents’ resurrection, but a perception of them corresponding to foreign doppelgangers? My thoughts sprung to Blake, whose visions I used to attribute to madness or drugs and wrote consoling a friend who had lost his son: “I know that our deceased friends are more really with us than when they were apparent to our mortal part [emphasis added]. Thirteen years ago I lost a brother, and with his spirit I converse daily and hourly in the spirit, and see him in my remembrance, in the region of my imagination.” He never explained if his visions were nocturnal or day-dreaming, but he took them seriously.
I was still lying in bed musing about dreams with my eyes closed when I thought how, if Blake were alive today, he would embrace the spin of modern physics that estranges us from the familiar sense of reality. Not of course that science can ever endorse a fantastic communication with his dead brother, but because it cautiously sanctions the possibility that someone like him may exist elsewhere in the cosmos, perhaps not so far from people like my parents or a Roger gazing wide-eyed into an abyss!
I doubt if any of the great interpreters of dreams from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Book of Daniel to Freud and Jung ever considered parallel universes, which are often called a multiverse and potentially extend to infinity. It is an audacious, even outrageous hypothesis, and how could they grasp the idea of a boundless cosmos when our senses are attuned to physical limits. How can we with more sophisticated science? I guess their focus was only on dreams as mental projections of their subjects’ anxieties and desires, although some had fanciful beliefs of divining the future from dreams, but they surely never entertained the idea that our dreams might be reflected somewhere in a vast REALITY.
The cosmos looks a far stranger place since general relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory. Echoing Hamlet’s advice to his friend about things undreamt of by their philosophy, Brian Greene wrote, “… common experience fails to be a trustworthy guide for excursions that wander beyond everyday circumstances” (The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, 2011). We have permission to suspend disbelief.
Dr. Greene is a prominent physicist who advocates (along with Steven Hawking) the multiverse hypothesis. The vision of many-worlds has several variants (nine to date), and we may never know which, if any, is a fact. Detractors declare that it isn’t strictly a scientific hypothesis at all because it can’t be verified by observation, relying on abstractions of math. As a scientific speculation, it lies somewhere between science and fiction on the grandest possible scale. I want to believe it, if only to enrich my dream world.
It is a beautiful idea that gives permission to accept as much or as little as we like with no obvious applications to divide us. Some people dismiss it, some see it nourishing creativity, some claim it expands their image of a Creator God, and some say it explains why life exists, because out of an infinite number of improbable circumstances one of them has its day. As much as we embrace the vision it embraces us.
For me, the multiverse is more Blake than Einstein, more dream than science, more stimulating than the alternative, and overflowing in ineffable wonder. What, for example, would it be like if we could travel through a black hole to another universe on the other side, like Alice arriving in a Wonderland through the looking glass? Greene claims the laws of physics on the other side might be quite different, and I wouldn’t discount meeting the Tweedle brothers, the Red Queen and other odd characters!
Alice speaking to her cat: Now Kitty, let’s consider seriously who it was that dreamed it all. This is a serious matter … it must have been either me or the Red King. He was part of my dream, of course—but then I was part of his dream, too!
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