Is Your Dream State For Rent?

I’m sure your dream state is the one you’re not living in. Is it California or Utah or Tennessee? But I’m not talking about physical states with beautiful this or that- I’m talking about that piece of real estate between our ears. Our brain and what it does the roughly eight hours we let it rest.

Rest? I don’t think so as it appears to have a mind of its own.

Our dreams. One of the most perplexing of all human characteristics. A world unto its own. Powerful enough to make hearts race, awake in a cold sweat, or find us in tears as our dream had us believe we were embracing a lost loved one. For many of us, our dreams are as real as being awake. Yet, try to remember your very last one.

It is possible our phobias have their roots in our dreams. Snakes and critters slither into our dream state and wreck havoc with our relationship with them- particularly if they have sinister motives which they almost always do. They become part of our nightmares. So real, we project our Alfred Hitchcockish dark shadows into our daylight fears.

Being chased is my nightmare. Usually by a pack of rabid dogs. Despite it never having happened, it has become such a part of my psyche, I wrote about it in my novel ‘Reunion.’

The other recurring dream is more of a nightmare. The kind of nightmare that you seriously wonder if you’ll survive. The battle is so intense, so real, my heart will race with fear. As hard as I try to wake up, to seek some shelter in the reality of a rising sun, I slip back to running for my life in the pitch black of my eyelids. The terror is always behind me and always catching up. Black dogs, a pack of them, with fire eyes and brilliant white teeth showing through the bloodthirsty growl and gruel, are gaining on me. I dodge and bolt and look for safety. A door or a gun or anything that might save me from this pack of rippers intent on pulling me apart tendon by tendon. Tearing my flesh from my bones until all that is left is a floating bluish orb slowly floating off as if lost.From the 'Reunion'  'Reunion' is available at Amazon.

Some believe dreams to be akin to the paranormal. An unexplainable phenomenon that leads us to the possibility of other dimensions. Stories tell of those dreaming dreams that have foretold the future. We emerge from slumber scratching and stretching our concept of rational reasoning leaving us to ponder beyond what we can touch, see, hear, and smell. From there, we feel our way along in the dark for the edges of spirituality and if so curious, a glimpse into life hereafter. Perhaps.

So powerful, folks that study the phenomena of dream states, believe dreams “literally are creating who we are.” So says a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, Mr Stickgold. “All night long, your brain is reprocessing memories from the previous day, connecting them with other memories, sifting through the residue to decide which ones to keep, and stabilizing them.”

“Our dreams,” he says, “are literally creating who we are.”

The psychiatry profession typically doesn’t have much patience for those who dabble in the paranormal. They sniff around looking for mostly organic understandings and those which might conform to Darwinism- the belief that all of life including human development is a result of evolution. I have yet to hear a succinct argument of the evolutionary benefits of me waking up in a cold sweat convinced I’ve been chased by a pack of dogs.

C.S. Lewis must have experienced a powerful dream or two causing him to ponder, “How could an idiotic universe have produced creatures whose mere dreams are so much stronger, better, subtler than itself?”

If I understand Dr. Stickgold, the brain spends its time off simply editing memories and running them through a stabilizer before projecting the edited version to the back of my eyelids. If so, then it is just a matter of time for smart technoid meta futurist marketing/social media types to figure out what it will take to tap into my dream state. Or more technically, that sleep state between wakefulness and unconsciousness. It is called hypnagogia. All they need to do is imbed wonderful images, ask my brain to collate while I sleep, and waa la. Well, keep reading- it’s not quite that simple.

Today, we find all sorts of companies spending money on how to get their marketing message to rent space in my brain and yours. Microsoft, Coors, Facebook, Burger King, and many others have active research programs with the aim of getting us to ‘dream’ of their products. The hope is that our dreams will turn into desire and only satisfied by pulling into a Burger King and ordering a Whopper and a Coors Light with a side of X-box.

Even the airline industry wants my dreams. Actually, I’d be happy to swing a deal with the airlines. I love fluffy clouds that look like sheep when I’m trying to fall asleep and a small American Airlines logo scrolling across the bottom would be no problem. 1, 2, 3… book a flight to Tahiti…

I know. You’re saying it will never work. And indeed, some researchers are hoping for failure as they have encountered some pushback by their sense of professional ethics. Sara Mednick is a sleep researcher and professor of cognitive science at UC Irvine. She signed a letter along with 40 others and is concerned about ‘dream ad incubation’ and its ethical implications.

“Our dreams are our last sacred space,” she says. “We’re super vulnerable during our sleep and we may not even know we’re being exposed to these techniques.”

So what ‘techniques’ is she talking about? What is this ‘dream ad incubation’ thing?’

An interesting twitch happens when we go into hypnagogia. The muscles in our hands relax and if wearing a special glove, a computer can now detect when you have approached the state of unconsciousness. It is in this state, the near dream state or hypnagogia, that we are most vulnerable to the power of suggestions.

Possibly related to hypnosis, which also works on the premise of suggestion, it appears to work. If the fingers twitch and the computer then whispers ‘trees’ to the volunteer dreamster, sixty-seven percent report having a dream that included ‘trees.’ Unfortunately, they don’t mention the context of the ‘tree’ dreams. Were they ‘trees’ from a Bob Ross painting or a ‘tree’ that blew over crushing my Tesla? The one I don’t own?

Of course, companies that make billions knowing they own our eyeballs are giddy with opportunity. They have never let ethics get in their way. Imagine hooking a ‘dream-ad-incubation’ glove to your Amazon Alexa, or your smartphone for that matter. They are. As soon as your fingers twitch nighty-night, little voices play in your ear. “Tahiti.” “You can do it!” “Don’t wet the bed.” “Buy a My Pillow.” “Take the garbage out.” “Walmart. Walmart. Walmart.” Soon your slumber turns into a broken record repeating everything back to you over and over till you wake up with a splitting headache.

I’m just guessing, but the future might go something like this. Amazon will pay you, rent if you will, when you order a fancy new fleece-lined sleep glove they branded “Amazon Glove.” They’ll claim it will prevent nightmares and various sleep disorders. If you take the offer, Amazon will include a free Alexa. Now you can online shop the sixteen hours you’re awake and then be told what to buy the eight hours you are sleeping or dreaming or lit up like a billboard.

Before we get all excited about someone renting our dream state, there are a number of challenges beyond the ethics of it. Embedding suggestions into my hypnagogic state is possibly not so much about influencing my deepest dreams but rather closely related to hypnosis. Much has been studied in the area of hypnosis and what benefits lie in its use. But the evidence is not particularly strong that it will induce behavior that was not already inherently possible or likely.

Dr. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and dream state enthusiast, would also think it mostly nonsense. He made a distinction between ‘little’ and ‘big’ dreams when he wrote, “Not all dreams are of equal importance. Even primitives distinguish between ‘little’ and ‘big’ dreams, or, as we might say, ‘insignificant’ and ‘significant’ dreams. Looked at more closely, ‘little’ dreams are the nightly fragments of fantasy coming from the subjective and personal sphere, and their meaning is limited to the affairs of the everyday. That is why such dreams are easily forgotten, just because their validity is restricted to the day-to-day fluctuations of the psychic balance. Significant dreams, on the other hand, are often remembered for a lifetime, and not infrequently prove to be the richest jewel in the treasure-house of psychic experience.”

It is perhaps unfair to characterize dreams as mere opportunities for product placement or recurring nightmares. Dreams both amaze and challenge us nearly every day. We consider the big ones as if they are actually a part of our history. And they are.



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Ron Baron

Ron Baron


Medium rare and a bit aged. Husband, father and grandfather. I write to untangle my thinking. I recommend it to others.