Not long ago, I had one of those dreams where I was back in college, and, having enrolled in a class, suddenly realized that the final exam day had arrived, and I’d failed to attend any of the lecture, or do any of the homework. You know the dream. It is, it seems, a very common one. I used to have this dream much more often in the years immediately after graduating from college. I never had the dream before, or during college.
It seems amazing to me that the brain has evolved in such a way that lots and lots of people have very similar versions of this dream, and it got me thinking: what did people dream about a few generations back when going to college wasn’t as common as it is today? Then, too, not everyone goes to college today, either by choice or circumstance. Do these people have similar dreams? Did Abraham Lincoln have these types of dreams? Did Da Vinci?
Along the same lines, I occasionally have a dream where I find myself at the airport, taking a plane up for some reason or another. It has been a long time since I have flown, but I manage to get the plane up in the air and safely on its way, before realizing with sudden horror, that I neglected to contact air traffic control.
I sometimes dream of getting into an elevator, which then gets stuck, either very high up in a building, or somewhere deep in the basement.
Much more rare, is the dream I have where I’ve somehow managed to lose a tooth or two. Has this dream always plagued people? I’ll bet George Washington had this dream quite often.
Before airplanes and elevators existed, how did these dreams manifest themselves?
On the whole, I don’t recall my dreams as much as I used to. It seems to me that when I turned 40, my recall of dreams plummeted. There were long periods of time—months at a stretch—when I couldn’t recall a single dream. Recently, I’ve been going through a patch of very vivid dreams.
If I had the choice, I’d choose to sleep without remembering any of my dreams at all. Sleep, for me, is a time to recuperate from the day. I generally fall asleep quickly, and I’d prefer my sleep to be sound, and interrupted by movies playing in my head, especially ones that raise my anxiety level. I have enough anxiety during my waking hours. I don’t need it when I sleep.
Dreams may serve some biological purpose, like aiding in the transfer of short-term memory to long-term storage, but I think they cause more trouble than they are worse. My kids occasionally worry at bedtime that they will have a bad dream. “No you won’t,” I tell them, but I really don’t know that for sure, and I have no way of controlling their dreams, and assuring they won’t have bad ones.
Philip K. Dick asked if androids dreamed of electric sheep. Even that would be preferable to dreaming that you were complete unprepared for your final exam.