The other night I had a dream. I found myself sitting in a philosophy class back at Akron U. It was apparent to the professor and to the students that I didn’t belong. Or rather, there was a time where I belonged… but it wasn’t at that moment. I protested to the professor (who happened to be Dr. LiVecchi- the professor who intimidated me the most all those years ago) that I had actually graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy. The students mocked that it was almost 10 years ago (bollocks… they were right! ) and that it was not likely that I had retained anything. Dr. LiVecchi asked me who my favorite philosopher was. “Easy. Kierkegaard.” I snapped. (haven’t mentioned that chap in a long time) and he asked what my favorite work of his was. “Fear and Trembling.” I snapped back.
And then I woke up.
For 4 years while I studied philosophy the names and books of philosophers were always swimming on the surface of my brain. Once I graduated, those names began to sink down… down… down deep into the spooky unknown depths of my brain. Up until that dream, I figured that all of that information was gone completely, leaving only fragments of words and names that no longer had any meaning or context. So out of curiously I reached over, grabbed my phone, and did a quick google search to see who wrote Fear and Trembling. And wouldn’t you know it- I was right. It was very exciting to learn that all that information was still in there… but the more I thought about it, the more uneasy it made me.
What’s going on in that squishy brain blob up there? More importantly, what is going on when it’s asleep? I’ve read a number of theories about humans and why/what happens when we sleep… and they are all pretty cool. I’ll list them not in order of importance, but in the order that I remember them. Because I’m tired.
5) Science still doesn’t know WHY we sleep. More or less. It is considered to be one of science’s great mysteries, but there are a few theories floating around out there. Unlike hibernation, which is utilized to regulate and slow physical functions- breathing, heart rate, and body temperature- sleep serves to benefit the brain moreso than the body. We don’t hibernate at night- because it’s important to be alerted easily (to, for example, be able to hear the ice cream truck far enough in advance to gather up some loose change). A few theories point to aid in consolidating new memories, and repairing cognitive functions. But… just imagine that you are a member of an advanced civilization who crash lands on Earth and begins to study the creatures living here. You admire their thirst for knowledge, revel in the magnificent things they can do with food, read their books, listen to their music, converse with them on deep existential topics… and then BOOM: they all fall unconscious for about 8 hours.
4)Lost Identity. Imagine that you are here with me and we’re talking. I ask you ‘what makes you special?’ And you spout some witty remark to try and be cute and I roll my eyes and say ‘No, seriously… what would you say makes you you?’ You would probably say that your thoughts and opinions… your goals and your dreams… all of which are a product of the experiences and the memories that you have made make up you. But what happens when you are unconscious (sleeping)? Is that person laying in bed still you? When you roll over in the middle of the night to flip your pillow to the cool side… who did that? It’s like turning off your computer at the end of every night. The next morning you don’t really think about the small miracle that happens when you turn it back on and all of your saved data is right where you left it. Now take that same computer idea and apply is to your goopy, sticky, squishy brain.
3)Dreams. Holy smokes do people love talking about their dreams. Some people think it’s foreshadowing, or it’s a portal to other dimensions, or it’s a way to talk to the deceased. Science has a few theories… all of which are equally cool. Threat simulation might be the coolest- it’s a way for our brain to prepare for actual threats we may find when awake. That’s just how great our brains are… while we are sleeping anyway. My brain runs ‘threat simulation’ when I’m awake… but during daylight hours it is classified as ‘worry’ and people tell me to ‘calm the eff down.’ Some also think it’s just the brain’s way of making sense of the randomly firing neurons during sleep. To me, that theory makes the most sense. It’s the reason why I once had a dream about swatting flies while shopping at the mall. Fired neurons usually correspond with thoughts… but if you’re not around to think you brain picks the thoughts for you.
2) Nightmares. If the topic ever comes up about nightmares, I can talk your ear off. When you dream and it’s random and weird you don’t think a whole lot about it. You wake up and go on with the rest of your day. But nightmares are different. Nightmares elicit feelings that linger with you throughout the day. I had a reoccurring nightmare for about a week about an old woman pulling a dollhouse on a wagon filled with body parts. If I saw it in a movie I would say ‘whatevs, BFD. That’s not scary’. But for some reason, within that dream, I was HORRIFIED of that dollhouse. My unconscious mind tied a feeling a acute horror (something I don’t experience in my stupid suburban life) to that dollhouse, and I couldn’t shake the feeling because it was something I had yet to experience.
1) Requiem for a Dream. That’s such a good movie, isn’t it? If you haven’t seen it I highly suggest you go check it out. I don’t have 5 things for this list. I’m sleepy.
*edit: While thinking back on old philosophy professors that I had, I decided to look them up on Akron U’s website… and found my favorite one retired. I looked him up on the interwebs to see if I could see what he is up to and found out some disturbing facts: He was in a car accident because he was drunk/on drugs in 2001 (at the age of 70!), and his house looks like the house from Grey Gardens. This dude was so amazing- he used to have long conversations with Oliver Sacks that he would record and play for us in class. He worked on a board that determined which people should get organ transplants over others. He wore tweet suits and bow ties and smoked a pipe- a real cliche within the philosophy department.