I spend a lot of my professional life studying dreams. I also write down my dreams from time to time, when they strike me as particularly noteworthy or interesting. My focus is normally on capturing the phenomenology, i.e. what the dream was like, how things looked, felt, and sounded.
I’m at a hotel, just woke up. I’m making the bed. Usual “happy” phenomenology. [I do not know what I meant by “happy phenomenology”.] I notice a stairway, and a woman walks down it and leaves what I thought was my hotel room. I start to wonder what’s up these stairs. A moment later I notice a small dog at the top of the stairs. I think, “cute!” It begins to walk down the stairs, and as it gets into better view (phenomenology still “happy”) I notice the dog is mangy and somewhat deformed: very small nose and beady eyes, oversized ears. The dog walks towards me, wanting to be touched — petted — but I don’t want to touch it. I back away. But I didn’t have a body — well, perhaps I “had” one, but I didn’t see or feel my own body. Still, the visual scene in front of me shifted as if I were backing away from the dog. I had the intention to get away from it. I felt bad. The dog just wants to be petted. Did I pet it? No. Did I try? I might have tried, “reaching” out a hand and arm I couldn’t see. Finally the dog gave up. It went over to an odd looking raised dog bed and laid down. The perspective shifts as I turned my head to follow the dog. The perspective shift wasn’t quite right: not smooth. Once the small mangy dog laid down, another larger dog appeared. This dog looked normal. It went up to the small dog. Sniffed it. I wanted to pet this new dog. He felt good, or safe. Did I pet it? I don’t recall. I woke up shortly after he appeared. Feb 19, 2020, written 10min after waking.
The dream reported here nicely exemplifies a number of features common to many of my REM dreams. First, I’m in an immersive environment and moving around. Second, note the bizarre narrative shifts: Where am I? First I was in a hotel room, but then noticed a new door not fitting of a hotel (or the scene shifted into something new). Also, who was the woman? Third, notice the “gappy” phenomenology: I “have” a body, but it’s not part of my visual experience. I don’t see it. Fourth: Weird combinations. The mangy dog is very strange, made up of an odd collection of body parts that don’t quite fit together correctly.
I was chasing a monster around a large warehouse, trying to zap it with a ray gun. The visual experience was very much like scenes out of old first-person shooter video games I played as a kid — almost as if I had found myself in the world displayed on the TV. I very much could feel my hand gripping my gun, and squeezing the trigger. The gun didn’t quite fire reliably as I pulled the trigger, and so (in the dream) I got frustrated and fiddled with my trigger-pull motion, trying to find out how best to make the gun fire. Something awakened me mid-dream, and I awoke in mid leg-twitch and found that I was gripping my Roku (a streaming device) remote, squeezing it. It has buttons on the side to control the TV volume, so as I squeezed, those buttons would have pushed back and given my hand tactile-motor feedback. Recorded a few days before Aug 10, 2020, immediately upon waking.
This dream nicely exemplifies some of the theories of Jennifer Windt (theories which I largely endorse, so, my reporting of my dream is biased). Notice the dream seems to have involved pretty tight causal coupling with my leg kicks and (especially) my actual gripping of the remote, and combined that feedback with old memories of playing video games (with a perspective shift into the game). This fits with Windt’s (and other people’s) idea that REM dreams are often driven by actual (albeit distorted) perception of our sleeping bodies as our brain does a kind of sensorimotor learning. Myoclonic twitches initiated from the brainstem cause proprioceptive feedback back to the cortex. The brain’s attempt to predict the incoming feedback (as as way to tune forward motor models) leads to dream experience. In this case, perhaps even my fiddling with my trigger-pull motion in the dream reflected some sort of motor learning on my brain’s part.
There was a man in front of me.
The face was familiar, but I couldn’t say where I knew it from or who it was; the movies perhaps?
There was, somehow impossibly, a deep blue tint to the face without the face itself being blue.
Or, perhaps, the man’s body was blue.
Actually, I’m not sure; either the man had a body which consisted just of a solid blue patch, or he had no body at all, just a head floating in space.
I want to say he had no body at all; in fact, at some point in the experience I noticed the lack of his body and I noticed how sharp and crisp the edge was delimiting the bottom of his neck.
At some point the deep blue tint of the figure overpowered much of the man’s appearance, so that, for example, first his teeth as seen behind his lips became a solid blue patch, then the patch too enveloped his lips, as if someone had placed a solid blue bar over his mouth.
Despite all this distortion the man’s face itself was quite vivid and clear to me.
It had flesh-like colors, although it perhaps consisted of only three or four instead of near limitless palette of real faces.
No shadows on the face.
It was a weathered face; he was a grizzled cop.
Was he wearing a stereotypical police peaked cap? Maybe.
I could distinctly and clearly see the sharp lines of skin folds on his wrinkled face.
Still, I only ever took in the whole face; I never tried to focus attention on any one part of it.
I suspect that if I had, the detail would have vanished.
The man and I were talking, but I found him very hard to understand.
I think this was because I heard his speech as mumbled or very faint.
Somehow I knew at least some of the words he was saying, although I’m not sure I heard those even words clearly.
“John”, “Suicide”; these I could hear.
I somehow knew he was asking about someone I knew.
I tried to ask him for clarification, but it was hard to speak. My own voice was weak and faint.
Aside from the man I was vaguely aware of some background behind him; perhaps at some moments the background was lit up with vivid detail — a desk! other people milling around! papers and someone holding a pen — but then the detail receded into nothingness.
Even when the detail did recede, I still noticed that I was speaking to this man through a window of some sort, like the kind of window you might see separating the public from attending officers at a police station. Aug 7, 2018
I’m not sure if this was an REM dream, or just really sophisticated hypnagogic imagery. It has aspects typical of both. What I find most distinctive about this dream is the “gappyness” or “incompleteness” of the phenomenology. While some aspects of what I experienced are richly detailed (e.g., the sharp skin folds of the man’s wrinkled face), others are highly degraded (e.g., the limited color palette) or absent all together (e.g., the man’s body or the disappearing background). Another feature of note is my difficulty speaking — another example of how dreams aren’t disembodied (or “envatted”) experiences, but instead involve rich sensory and motor connections to the body and environment. Of course, a third feature to note is the general bizarreness, instability, and indeterminacy of much of the dream content.
Mental time (and space) travel
The dream started … at a concert or “talk” of some sort with my mother and grandparents. … At some point I found myself up on stage helping them with their computer. They wanted to use Google maps (for some reason?)—with it on satellite view. But they were having trouble. I fixed it for them. … [I guess they were giving a talk and I was helping them set up their computer to project something on a screen.]
At this point the setting seemed to shift. The images that I was seeing on the screen as I browsed Goggle maps seemed to become reality. For a moment or two it was as if I was in the air—and moving very fast both up and down and side to side. But quickly it shifted from me being what was flying around to a round, wide and flat piece of chalk that was doing the flying around.
Well, it was more like I was carrying [the chalk] around while standing in a room—buzzing it about like a child might play with a toy airplane. But at least at first—until the chalk broke—I was also buzzing the chalk around the sky I had just previously been flying through.
Initially my mother and grandparents were in the room with me, but I don’t remember that part of the dream. Or maybe in the dream they never were [there], and in the dream I just had the memory of them being there. When they were [there], they found some significance to the geographical locations I, or the chalk, were at/covering as I/it went through the sky. …
Anyway, I was still playing with the piece of chalk and could hear my mother and grandparents in an adjacent room. At some point I was holding the chalk up around the ceiling and accidentally dropped it. It fell and split in two—into two thinner, wide round disks.
At this point I found myself looking at the split piece of chalk as it sat on a very odd looking object. The thing was clear, rather large, had a central trunk like a tree, and shooting off from the trunk on each side [were] 4 or 5 concave shaped “dishes”. Each dish was rectangular shaped—much more long than wide. Each was connected to the trunk by a little rod. And their concavity was pointing towards me.
At this point the conversation between my mother and grandparents caught my attention. They were discussing money. … For some reason this bothered me. I have the feeling that when the scene with me playing with the chalk started I was actually quite young, around 10. Or, maybe I was somehow both my current age and young. Anyway, by this point in the dream I had definitely returned to my current age, and what my mother was saying bothered me. Evidently by this point in the dream I had come up to my mother’s house to work on my car—like I had in real life a week or two [prior to the dream]. But for whatever reason I needed money from them to buy more parts. My grandparents had offered and given it to me. (Evidently it was Easter in the dream, just as it had been when I took my car up to my mother’s house in real life, since they gave the money to me in a funny looking plastic egg. …) …
Anyway, I felt as if I needed to go in the room with them, so I walked from the room with the broken chalk and funny looking object into the room in which they were. This room was just like the kitchen at our old house in Bechtelsville. Not much happened after I walked in—or at least, I don’t remember. The dream ended shortly afterwards. … Apr 10, 2013 (Some parts omitted.)
I recorded this dream report long before I started doing research on dreams. It is, as you can see, less focused on describing phenomenology and more focused on the narrative. Still, what I find interesting about it are the many and varied spaciotemporal shifts: e.g., from looking at a map on a screen to being in the space depicted by the map, to being in another room (and then walking into a room in a house over a thousand miles away), and shifting between my 10-year old self and myself as I was a few weeks before the dream.