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Escaping Reality

aybala50's picture

Something bad may have happened today. I just want to leave, to get away. Where can I go? I want to forget, maybe to ignore, even if only for a moment. Last night I was entering my house and at first I couldn’t unlock it, but then I felt great relief when the door opened. I walked inside and it was dark. The door shut. I can’t see anything and I can’t hear anything. I try to reach for the walls so that I don’t fall. It’s an abyss. I feel lost; I have no control. Then, I wake up. My hearts beating fast, I’m sweating, I don’t know where I am. A couple seconds and I’m in my room. I see the walls, my bed, my window and the light creeping through it. What a relief to see some light after all the darkness. I have dreams, just like everyone else and this was only one of them. If I can’t escape my life, the reality in which I am living in, and my dreams are also not an escape, how do I get away?


Famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, has done a fairly good job at describing dreams, their purpose, and even their necessity. In his The Interpretation of Dreams Freud argues: “…that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams…every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state.”            


So, all of our individual dreams have more meaning than seen on the surface.
Maybe the dark room or the fear in my dream represented something in my life. I woke up with the physical responses of actual fear; does this make my dream more real than it was? Did my fear signify the crossing-over of my dream world into my reality, my life? I know I felt everything in my dream when I woke up, just as if the dream actually happened. So, if the effects are there is the cause also?

            Dreams are a part the reality of the individual having them. Then, someone else’s dream would not be reality for me; my own dreams on the other hand are real for me. When I am awake, I am aware of my life, my actions, consequences, the reality in which I live in. When I am dreaming I feel everything that is happening to me in my physical body. The neuron’s firing in my brain, the fear or the happiness.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are running from someone and you wake up feeling exhausted? I have, I was tired from the running I did in my dream, even though physically my body stayed put in my bed. Or, I dream about eating a tasty looking cheeseburger and I wake up craving a cheeseburger. Then again, if someone else had been running in his or her dream, would I feel exhausted? Or, if someone else had been dreaming about a cheeseburger, would I be craving one as well?

Clearly I wouldn’t even know about another’s dream unless I was told about it. If my friend sits me down and tells me about a terrifying dream she had I probably would sympathize, but I wouldn’t feel the dream so internally as she did. After all, it’s not connected to my subconscious, or my fears. This doesn’t mean that I will not feel something.

This is the way art, books, movies, stories, and even music works. A sudden inspiration for a writer of a new book may result from a scary dream, which is then transformed into a screenplay and then a movie, which I watch. Is the movie scary? Probably. Then again it’s only a movie. I only feel the effects of the movie for a short period of time, after this the effects only remain with the author. If the dream never turns into a form that others can see, is it still real? As Paul Grobstein mentioned in class, chatter, or talk may make something ‘real’, however I’m not sure this is exactly true. The emotions a person is feeling may not be apparent to others, but they still exist within the person. Hence, even without chatter there is ‘individual’ reality that exists for each person.

When I pick up a book I enter a different world, not mind, but maybe someone else’s. The author of the book uses aspects from his or her life to create a world in this work that others can see. By opening up this book and starting to read about a world that is completely unfamiliar to my own, I enter into the author’s imagination. Books are then an example of a way to leave one’s own reality.  When I want to get away all I have to do is pick up a book and enter a new world. Movies and other mediums of work can work in the same way. However, this exiting of one’s own reality is again temporary. Though it may sound appealing it is not possible to exit one’s own reality for good. Our reality is connected to our identity. If a reality is gone, then so is the identity.

In Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Alice questions not only the reality of the situation, but also her own identity. In the book the Caterpillar asks Alice: “Who are you?” Alice’s response to this question is “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then…I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see.” (55) Did Alice feel lost and ‘not herself’ because she was in someone else’s reality for too long? Was she not the one having the dream? It’s possible that Alice was in someone else’s dream, possibly the Red Kings…


Then again, Alice is merely a character in the work of the author Lewis Carroll. Hence as a character in Lewis Carroll’s work Alice is trying to be a part of his dream. If being a part of someone else’s reality will destroy one’s identity, is that what was happening to Alice? Is a prolonged ‘unreality’ possible and does it cause a loss of identity? 



aybala50's picture

Dreaming, Identity, Control

 I like the idea of fluidity when it comes to identity. I guess maybe entering other's stories is not necessarily a threat. Is it possible that entering one's own dreams, where there is little control, is a greater threat? In some cases even a traumatic effect? The idea of lucid dreaming is also very interesting to me and it got me thinking about my dream experiences. Generally I don't feel like I have control in my dreams and I don't usually wake up while dreaming. However, on occasion when I am having a particularly pleasant dream I wake up in the midst of it and just as if I had to pause a movie I close my eyes and continue the dream, eventually falling asleep. In these cases, I don't control the duration of the whole dream, but I do make myself go back to where the dream left off when I woke up until I fall asleep and eventually re-enter the dream state. For a split second, I have control. Then again, I don't particularly remember ever trying to change something, or control the situation. 

What about the idea of day-dreaming?


Anne Dalke's picture

traveling between the real and the imaginary

I was telling you all in class today how much I'm enjoying the series of epigrams that makes up David Shields' new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. This afternoon I came across one that seems to comment nicely on your notion of a fluid identity, one in which day dreaming plays an important part:

To be alive is to travel ceaselessly between the real and the imaginary, and mongrel form is about as exact an emblem as I can conceive for the unsolvable mystery at the center of identity.

Anne Dalke's picture


Such a dramatic beginning, to bring your reader straight into your dream! That got my heart pumping, for starters....

But you are just @ the very beginning of a deep, deep rabbit hole. You start with a claim that I think is unarguable: "dreams are a part the reality of the individual having them." You should know that have in your corner here the great American philosopher and psychologist William James, who argued his whole life that "as soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena," "we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term." "The axis of reality," he claimed, "runs solely through "the inner state" (these quotes are taken from his seminal text, The Varieties of Religious Experience).

The first real question in your essay arises, I think, when you go on to observe that, "if the dream never turns into a form that others can see," then it fails to become part of a larger, more communal agreement of what constitutes reality. James also (handily!) gives you a way around that concern, in his argument that "the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist .... and those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also." So: one can acknowledge a larger, more expansive world than the one that one experiences directly, and call it "real," based on others' testimony. So: so far, so good.

But where you really get into deep water is w/ your third thought-experiment, that of entering into the imagination of another, especially via reading what they have written: "Books are then an example of a way to leave one’s own reality." The danger (I think you are saying?) is that of "exiting our own reality," and thereby destablizing our own identity. But there's a way around this problem, too, I think.  What of an alternative conception: rather than conceptualizing identity as something fixed, that needs to be preserved, what if you think of it as always fluid, always malleable, always being altered by our experiences, whether waking or sleeping, mediated by others or taken "straight"? Then identity is never really under "threat," just always under constant revision.

One particularly interesting set of experiences in this regard is the concept (and experience!) of lucid dreaming (i.e. controlling the direction of our own dreams as they occur).   mkarol's essay on Form or Content?  introduces an animated cartoon, Waking Life, that both explores the possibility of "lucid dreaming" and makes an analogous claim that films, rather than "slavishly" imitating novels, can-and-should try to create something distinct, "a holy moment" of present reality. What's particularly striking to me about that claim is that an adaptation can become an original: a copy that can become something new.

So, too, might we continually revise our selves, incorporating the old into the new (waking life into dreams), the new into the old (dreams into waking life)....?