06 January, 2020

Recurring Dreams

Reading an account of another's dream is uninteresting. On this basis alone, I recommend not reading this blog entry. But I cannot ignore the things I experience in the dream state; they are too powerful, recurring often, impacting how I live out a significant (but not majority) number of my waking days. (If it influences your choice on whether to read this, know that a large portion this post goes into more than just the mere content of my dreams.)

Pictured: what I imagine others' dreams are like.
I'm an oneironaut. I'm able to choose what happens in dreams, or at least I confabulate my dream actions, which I am told is not something that most people do. However, I can't choose the setting of any of my dreams. They feel random to me, even though once I am in them, I can explore them at will.

One of the interesting parts of any dream I have is that dividing line between when I am not thinking about whether it is a dream and when I am actively asking whether it is a dream. Soon after is the answer to my question: learning whether I am indeed in a dream. But that dividing line is not so significant as the moment before I think to question and the moment that I do.

Many of my dreams are unique, but I have several recurring settings. Today, that setting was a house that is entirely invented, but which felt like a house I had previously lived in. It's particularly strange because even after I determined that it was a dream, even after I went through all the dream actions I desired, even after I opened my eyes and started looking around the room in my wakened state, I still sincerely thought that my dream was of a former house that I had lived in. It took several minutes before I recognized that this house had never been real, and that the reason it felt so familiar was because it was a home that I had dreamed of living in many dozens of times before, the last of which was over five years ago.

I can clearly see the makeup of this house in my head. The floor plans are mostly sensical, and it seems like it could very well be an actual house. But my awake self has never visited such a place. Still, it felt like an old home to me. So many things happened in that house. I can remember specific events, features, furniture, guests. One item in particular was a word game.

It is this word game that makes me want to write this down in a blog post. Some parts of the game are silly -- dreamlike. For example, each player had a hollow sphere to hold their pieces. The top hemisphere of this was bright orange. But other features made it an actually interesting game. The requirement was to provide a noun that matched a category on the left; if animal was the category, cat would be an acceptable response. But on the right you had a different type of category, a descriptive numerical one like too many, or an alarming amount. The player had to provide two words on the right: a number and another noun, like three birds. This would need to fit the description better than the opposing player's response. After being scored, the completed words would stay together, and could be used in future rounds as responses rather than creating new words. What made this word game unique was that the number of tiles provided was immense. There was no hand; you could spell anything you wanted from your entire collection of pieces. But as the rounds pass, the tiles would become fewer, and the descriptions on the right would become more specific, like not quite a dozen, or three times however many of these are in this room plus the opponent's number. This meant that a successful strategy would need to conserve tiles to be used for specific needed numbers, even while the left hand category is constantly asking for new words that you likely haven't made yet. The winner was determined by a combination of points on how well you responded to each category and how many (and what type) of tiles you had left over when another player ran out of tiles.

This is not a publishable game. It has too many pieces, requiring a set for each player. And the pieces would have to connect in some way so that they didn't break into tiles after being used. The game designer would need to provide a distribution of tiles that would account for needing to spell out numbers quite frequently, and there are certainly some letters that are used far more often there than others. (Not to mention the need for many s tiles for all the plurals.) And the right hand categories would need to get progressively restrictive in an interesting way that involves other players, without being so difficult that the game ends prematurely -- the only way I can think of doing this well is to make the number of starting tiles huge so that when you get to that stage you aren't immediately stumped.

What I find interesting here is how this is a game that I feel like I've played multiple times in this dream house, in several previous dreams. Each time I play it, the rules get more specific. I think more about how turns should be structured, how powers might steal completed words from the opponent, how end game strategy might hinge on knowing in advance what the opponent's categories will be even while being in the dark about your own, and how you can specifically use numbers or words that would make an opponent's upcoming turn particularly difficult.

And yet: I do not remember ever thinking about this game in the waking world. All of this was done in a dream state. Even though it is a bad game, it is not hilariously bad. It's just... not good. That seems pretty impressive for a game created entirely in a dream. As I woke today, I had the thought: Oh, I should pack this game to go with me when I meet Jon next weekend in Virginia. It took several minutes to realize that this is not a real game that exists in the real world.

Games such as these are just a set of rules. In my dream, I followed those rules. Was I not playing the game in my dreams, then? Not just playing a dream game, but the actual game itself. If, in the dream, I had computed 23*34, then wouldn't it be true to say that I had multiplied for real in the dream? In that same way, I think I was playing the real actual game in my dream; I wasn't just playing a dream game. How often does this happen? That a game would be designed and played in a dream, before ever being brought into reality?

I suspect it happens often. How many times have I heard of people getting inspiration from dreams on complex ideas.... The recreational math I do is simple enough to solve in the waking world; perhaps if I attempted harder puzzles I could leverage my dreams to attack them. Others seem to be able to do this, even if they aren't able to do lucid dreaming. I wonder what kind of problems work well in dreams, given that rules can be broken there. Is there some way I can repurpose my dreams to accomplish work that would be relevant in my waking life?

My intention is to start testing. I know, for example, that writing is completely out of the question in dreams. If I write something down in a dream, it doesn't stay there for when I look at it again. But if an object is placed in a room, I can look away and when I return my gaze the object remains. So I can record and manipulate data; I just can't do it using writing. But what specific kinds of things can I keep in mind? Could I place an octopus, for example, to stand in for an eight? Would that even be useful? How many items can I manipulate before the first item becomes unrecognizable?

Test one will be to look up some easy to solve puzzle online that requires manipulating several elements. I will deliberately not look up the answer, and will only look at the question and components right before going to sleep. Then, in my dream state, I will try to solve the puzzle by manipulating the elements. The puzzle should have a unique simple answer, which will be clear to me when I wake. Then, in the waking world, I will check to see if the answer is correct, and, if so, then how many entities have to be kept in mind while manipulating elements to arrive at the correct answer. Then I can do future tests to see what the limit of my dream logic's manipulable elements actually are.

Put 10 sugar cubes in 3 cups, w/ odd # in each. »Answer
One stumbling block will be that the manipulation of elements will have to be basic -- something that I can do in a dream that won't change on me later. This means it can't be word manipulation, like "seeing what you saw", nor unusual combinations, like most lateral thinking puzzles. I'm afraid that if I have to use an object in a way that doesn't mesh with my animal brain, then it will disapparate in the same way that writing does in my dreams. Will this limit what kinds of things I can solve in the dream world? Certainly, but as yet I'm not sure what would or would not qualify here.

Another concern I have is my inability to influence the setting of each dream. What if the objects I need to manipulate make no sense in the context of the setting I happen to dream in that night? Will this make it more difficult to manipulate? Or less? These are all questions that need to be answered.

But for now I suppose I should refocus on the waking world. I need to figure out what real games I should bring for when Jon visits this side of the country this weekend.