The Thinker -or- Dreaming and the Social Construction of Reality

I think, therefore I am -or- Know Thyself and the Dream Argument 

Rene Descartes philosophy and famous phrase "I think, therefore I am" provided a scientific method and a way to differentiate what is the so-called real and what are "figments of the imagination". In "Meditations" Descartes philosophical argument proceeds to prove his own existence from a "first person" literary point of view. From this initial "egocentric" perspective a person can begin to build their thinking, knowledge, understanding and literacy of "social reality". 

From this perspective, we can start to create rational "thought experiments". We can begin to "problem solve". We can begin to deal with "the problem of other minds", from which we develop a "theory of other minds". By developing a theory of other minds, we can begin to feel empathy  and compassion. From a "Piagetian" perspective, children learn to cognitively construct and build a "model" of social reality. 

Children at an early age begin to differentiate dream and waking reality. Many parents tell their children after they experienced a nightmare, "go back to sleep, it was just a dream", without explaining what a dream or a nightmare is. In other words, they are saying it isn't real. Here is where the psychological seeds of ignorance, self-deception and deceit can begin to take root. Descartes dream argument plays an important role in many of the dream interpretations posted at the IIDR website. The aphorism found at Delphi tells us to "Know Thyself".  Dreams are the royal road of cognition (read thought) to understanding ourselves, others and the world. 

Many of the dreams posted at the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) website discuss the psychological aspects of the social construction of reality and the "subjectivity" of "I think, therefore I am". In part the IIDR website uses the Cartesian "cogito" paradigm of worldly thought, which follows the archetypal footsteps of Dante's "Divine Comedy" as meditatively and artistically expressed through Rodin's "The Thinker". Below is the dream of a woman who has suffered loss and separations that have left her feeling emotionally distant, and not quite sure what to think. Here is the dream; 

Leslie, 31 

Background: My father passed away from cancer about 8 months ago. At the time of his death, he was skeletal and bedridden. My husband is currently serving overseas. This is his second deployment since the birth of our 3 year old daughter and he has been gone for 6 months and will not return home for 6 more months. I have another daughter who is 6. 

Recently, I had a dream (or perhaps 2 separate dreams in the same night) in which my house burned down and I was visited by my dead father. The fire was caused by negligence on my part. I either left something on the stove or I left something flammable near a heat source. I was across the street when I noticed flames from within my house. It seemed small so I thought I could put it out in time, but by the time I arrived to my front door, I saw that the house was fully engulfed. By the time the fire department arrived, we had lost everything on two levels of the house. I can't remember which level was spared, but I want to say that it was, inexplicably and ironically, the level in which the fire started. 

Either at an earlier or later point in the same dream or perhaps in a separate dream sequence, my dead father appeared to me. He was alive and appeared very healthy. If we had a conversation, I don't remember it. But at some point, early in our interaction, it occurred to me that he wasn't really there. That my father was dead and that I was just imagining him. I said to him "you're not really here. It's not you." And he tried to hug me and tell me that it was okay. I backed away and started crying and kept repeating that this wasn't real. That he wasn't really there. It seemed as if I was trying to will him to disappear because I was aware that he was just a figment of my imagination. I believe that on some level, I thought that it was unhealthy for me to be imagining such a thing. And soon, he did in fact, disappear. I don't think I woke up immediately because I wasn't as emotional when I woke as I was in my dream. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: In Loving Memory -or- I thought it wasn't Real? 

We can begin with the hermeneutic egocentric point of departure in your dream, where you say; "Either earlier or later point in the same dream or perhaps in a separate dream sequence, my dead father appeared to me." Your uncertainty of earlier or later or separate dream sequence, indicates your ego's confusion to see clearly the living photomontage of thoughts, feelings and memories in terms of personal time, space and relationships that your dream has been constructed out of. In terms of your "real" perceptions of your lived "time", what is certain is that your father has passed on horribly from cancer, your husband has been deployed and you are left to raise two children alone. 

Much like "Neo" in the film "The Matrix", after being freed from the Matrix, he is shown the "programmed" dream reality of the Matrix. Neo's mind cannot accept what he sees and feels, and tells Morpheus; "No I don't believe it. It's not possible." The film is a sophisticated artificial intelligence version of the Cartesian "dream argument". Your memories and feelings of your father however are real, and often when a loved one passes on, you can find "In Loving Memory" written on their headstone. Your father who you say "appeared very healthy" wants to hug you, console and comfort you, yet you will have nothing to do with it. You declare in the dream; "you're not really here. It's not you." You say; "I thought that it was unhealthy for me to be imagining such a thing". Many people wish they could meet their loved ones in a dream again, just hoping for one more moment to say good-bye. Read the interpretation "The Dream Landscape of Touch" (read Ester's dream). 

In your dream, you see your "house" (burning down), which is poetic shorthand for your life, your home and the various levels of your being, existence and imagination; your thoughts, feelings, relationships, memories and social reality. In your dream, you were across the street, which indicates a change in perspective, one much like Escher's "Self Portrait in Spherical Mirror". In this way the dream acts like a "self reflection" of your mind's eye, to watch and see how your memory, visual thought and imagination operates. You believe, that it would be "unhealthy" to imagine your father as being healthy and consoling you. You distance ("I backed away") yourself from your that not the "intimate" hermeneutic key to understanding your dream? You feel emotionally distant from you're your father, from your husband, and from your home. The reality of emotional distance, is what makes you cry, and yet what you appear to desire the most is emotional closeness, which you deny yourself in the dream. Is that healthy? 

If fire is often seen as a cognitive metaphor for passion and warmth, then in your mind your flames of passion have become destructive and rage out of control. You "thought" you could stop it. Then, you "saw that the house was fully engulfed." You have been "negligent", and you have "lost everything". Have you been searching for consolation and emotional closeness in wrong places? You say, the "irony" is that where the fire started was "spared" and not destroyed. The dramatic irony of your destroyed family home, that you speak of, is it "tragic" irony if the truth were known? 

Further Reading: 

  • Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, "The Social Construction of Reality"
  • Jean Piaget, "Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood"
  • Shagra Zim, "Cognitive Development
  • David Foulkes, "Children's Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness"
  • Hans Furth, "Knowledge as Desire: An Essay on Freud and Piaget"
  • Gregory Bateson, "Steps to an Ecology of the Mind"
  • Edith Cobb, "the ecology of imagination in childhood"
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.