Many songs and movies point to the dream-like state of our lives. Whether it’s Neo following Morpheus down the rabbit hole in “The Matrix,” or The Classics singing, “Life is But A Dream,” human-kind has pondered the question about whether or not we are really ‘here,’ or not. But, why? What about this life could be so questionable that it would even give us pause to wonder? And, what about reality is so unstable that we might actually consider alternate lives?
Fantasy and science fiction fill the hearts and minds of most people around the world. Sometimes, it’s the more widely accepted science fiction of future events or mythical creatures, but it can also encompass our history and even secular beliefs. From the earliest records in humanity, supernatural beings with powers that are seemingly greater than those of mortal men have been recorded. From the ancient gods of yore to the elves, mankind has made record of amazing beings that don’t appear in our world today – at least not that we know. Is it so strange that we could conceive of creatures that existed but we’ve never seen? Would it be out of the ordinary to think of mythological creatures of great might and strength that somehow departed our world or … were perhaps from a different one? Ask any scientist about dinosaurs, and the answer may not seem so far fetched. Yet, our mythology relies heavily upon out-of-this-world explanations (yeah – even the dinosaurs require a planet-wide, meteor from outer-space, catastrophic event to explain their disappearance).
What about the idea that Earth was visited by so-called alien species? Setting aside our position in our own galaxy as only one of 500 unique solar systems discovered to date, the idea that there’s other life in the universe is not overly extreme. When the first emperor of China, Huang-Di, not only lived/ruled for a 100 years, but also authored a multitude of texts and information that was far advanced over anything else in the known world, the possibility of ancient visitors is not too out of the realm of ‘possible.’ Add to this the context of Sumerian tablets and ancient world maps that existed far in advanced of the rest of history, that it at least brings up the possibility of contradictory events that don’t follow a set time-line and can only seemingly exist in an unrealistic state.
But, what if there’s another explanation for all of this? What if the ever-changing and dynamic nature of the so-called ‘laws’ of physics are not so set in stone after all? While the laws that govern the nature of science and existence seem consistent, they change depending on where a person is located. For example, time moves more slowly as we approach the center of gravity for the Earth and doesn’t remain constant. Quantum physics was developed as an alternative to standard science models to explain events outside of ‘normal’ physics. Could it be that the constant that we define as reality is not so … real? Science works diligently to predict patterns to help in discovery, but more times than not, these patterns seem to vary in ways that go beyond our scientific parameters of ‘real.’
Consider the testimonies of millions around the world of spectral beings since the beginning of written records. Their existence – if it were true – would point to a form of existence, or reality, that is contradictory to our own. There’s also the phenomenon of shared ideals around the world from different cultures that have never met. We’re not talking about writers on opposite sides of the planet writing about the origin of species at the same time with the same conclusions and no contact – but about universal constants in language, architecture, and even dreams. The bond that unites us goes beyond an unseen and unspoken form and is something outside of this world. Stories about supernatural healing, strength, and other tasks (even those caught on film), defy reality. If reality is so easily defied – then is it – real?
Then there are the stories about an existence outside of this one. Consider movies like The Matrix, The 13th Floor, Riverworld, Waking Life, Samsara, Enter the Void, and others. These stories (whether in Hollywood or written form), all present an eery, yet somewhat acceptable concept about the reality of our existence. Stories are humanity’s greatest, and first, form of passing along knowledge. Is it an unconscious thought like something programmed into our DNA? Or, are we just imaginative enough of a mortal species to consider alternatives to death – and how does religion fit into that?
The greatest theological challenge for humanity is accepting that the stories are true. From Buddhism and reincarnation to Christianity and a spirit world following this life, there is a consistent theme that life does not end. The question of the human soul and what happens extends beyond mere faith and points to a universally accepted principal, from birth, about a life after this one. (I’ll deal with atheism in future discussion). There are scriptures, stories, and even stone tablets that say this life is only a stopping point in a greater journey. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “To be alive is to be awake, and I have never met a man who is fully awake.” So, when we dream – are we actually waking up?
Not many people have the rare opportunity to experience a hypnogogic hallucination at the same level that people with sleeping disorders get to experience it. Their lucid dreams occur on a nightly basis and they walk through worlds that never existed. Of course, many people have had these types of uncharacteristically realistic dreams at one point or another, and it’s left them questioning the reality of their own lives. Seeing people and places that you’ve never before seen can be very disturbing. Feeling sensations so real that they can’t be distinguished from sensations while awake is as equally disturbing. But, that brings up another, good point – what defines our perception of reality?
“We are the music makers … and the dreamers of dreams.” (Willy Wonka – the good one… not the creepy Johnny Depp one… 😛 )
It is an established fact that every sensation that human beings feel is a perceived experience. Molecules don’t make contact with other molecules – lest something explodes. When you “feel” the touch of another person, you’re feeling the electromagnetic pressure between the forces in your body and theirs. Our brains interpret this as touch. When that force exceeds an acceptable threshold of destructiveness, our brains perceive that as pain. Feelings and emotions are also an ideal developed in the mind and vary from culture to culture, depending on how a person is raised.
We also have modern day historical context upon which to draw information. Take the Roanoke colony, for example. It is only one of a multitude of cities (towns, groups of people, etc.) that have vanished from the face of the Earth – and there’s no sufficient amount of science or ‘reason’, to explain these events. The stories of lost civilizations such as Atlantis are pervasive in our culture and carry with it apparently factual stories as recent as those of Plato and Socrates. One or two events in all of human history might lead someone to believe that human beings are very imaginative creatures. But, when it happens repeatedly throughout the world – a common theme making unrealistic events real gives us good reason to question the world around us.
So – what is real? Many might say that the love they feel for another is real. Perhaps the pain we feel is extreme and very real – to us as individuals. What about humanity’s strange acceptance of extreme and unusual situations and failure to do anything about it? The world’s civilization’s throughout history have been very apathetic during times of oppressive rule – even to their own detriment (ignoring laws and decisions by a monarchy or leader that only have an effect because the people allow it to – not because there’s anyone actually enforcing it!!). Civilizations also seem to be easily manipulated by television and marketing. The introduction of the cell phone at the end of the 20th century took over the world’s communications at an alarmingly fast speed. Some might say that its adoption (or intrusion) into humanity was, unrealistic.
Unfortunately, the only people who can answer this question are those who have already left this world behind. However, when there is enough information to give us cause to even question reality, then that should be an indicator of the very realistic possibility that this life is only a dream. What can we take from this? If we are the dreamers of the dream – and this is our dream – then this is our time, in between worlds, to live that dream to its fullest and find its meaning. That doesn’t mean getting rich (albeit – not a bad conclusion), or necessarily finding meaning in family and love (a much better result) – but finding meaning in our own purpose – or own resolve – and our own selves. But that, is a story for another time …