A Revealing Dream

December 27th, 2012

I reject the common notion that dreams tell stories; as I have explained elsewhere, I believe dreams to be nothing more than our garbled interpretations of complex “back-office processing” of daily experiences, in which some are integrated into the larger network of ideas that constitute our personality, and some are dispensed with as a waste of neural real estate.

Last night I experienced a dream that reveals something about my internal processing. Some context is necessary to appreciate the dream. For the last few weeks, I have been mapping out the bedrock underlying my 40 acres. It appears that there are two major bands of bedrock traversing my land in a direction from north to south. Observation of cleavage patterns supports this conclusion; a great deal of rock cleavage is parallel to this line, suggesting a stress gradient perpendicular to the line while the rock was deep underground. This is consistent with the geological history of the area; southwestern Oregon was built up as a series of slabs of material subducted along a line running roughly north to south.

By the way, much of this knowledge is derived from digging up rocks. Yes, there are plenty of exposed rocks, but I’ve been doing a lot of digging recently, to obtain rocks for obstructions I’m putting into my creek to slow erosion and provide calmer waters that support a greater diversity of life. This involves lots of salutary hard labor, which is a major reason I pursue this task.

OK, that’s the context: I’ve been studying rocks running along a line from north to south, and seeking out big rocks to use in the creek. In the dream, I chanced upon a lovely set of exposed large rocks. “Hot diggety!” I told myself; these would provide excellent material for the creek. In my dream, I knew the precise location of the rocks; I can pinpoint their location on the map. In the real world, there are no rocks at that location, but in my dream there was a plethora of useful rocks. Here’s the really striking part: I looked towards the east, perceiving the terrain exactly as it is in the real world, with the striking exception of a large stand of rocks about 50 meters away. That imaginary stand of rocks does not exist in the real world, but it stood on a location where the ground contours suggest that there mightreally be bedrock close to the surface. In my dream, I concocted a scientifically reasonable hypothesis of the location of bedrock I had not actually observed!

What’s more, when I in my dream observed that large stand of rock, I realized that the linear path of bedrock it suggested ran in an east to west direction – perpendicular to the direction I had previously observed. That realization caused me consternation in the dream; it appeared to contradict my previous observations.

Back in the real world, I decided to test the dream’s hypothesis regarding the location of the large rock stand. It’s actually just over the boundary of my land, but I’ve had a few occasions to traverse that area. There is, of course, no rock stand there, but when I tested the ground with a few pokes of the pickaxe, lo and behold, I hit rock!

So, is my subconscious equipped with some sort of geological ESP? No. What actually happened is that the dreaming process integrates the previous day’s experiences into the overall structure of memory. My previous memories included four facts that I had not integrated into a single integrated whole. First, I had noticed an excess of loose rock once while in that area; second, that I had noticed how rocky and infertile the soil was on an area about 100 yards south of the first location; third, that there was a descending ridge along the line between the two points, indicating bedrock more resistant to erosion; and fourth, that ridge line ran north to south. My subconscious had merely integrated these four observations (along with my realization of the north-south alignment of the other bedrock seams) to correctly deduce the existence of rock along that ridge.

This, by the way, is the same process that results in creative leaps. So pay attention to what your dreams mean, not just the tale you think they tell.