Can we communicate dreams?

Morris, R. C. (2013, July 26)

I have always been a dreamer; both during the day with my teachers yelling at me to pay attention and during the night, where I fly through the sky or run from a herd of elephants. Frequently, I wake up and remember the dream, sometimes clearly ‘scene for scene’, other times less clear and it is more of a vague feeling left behind. Some people when asked whether they remember their dreams answer with the response: ‘I never dream when I sleep’. However, nowadays it is well proven that dreams will always occur, some people are just prone to forgetting them quickly. 

It is a well known ritual in my house, where my mom asks me whether I have slept well and vice versa and we relay our dreams if we can remember them. However, even though I may have written the dream down on my notepad that I keep next to my bed, or I still remember the dream vividly, sometimes I am just unable to correctly tell my mother about the dream. I can tell my mother I had been flying that night, but I won’t be able to explain to her the feeling of weightlessness and freedom that came with it. I could try to explain to her why I felt so afraid of the elephants running after me, but to be honest, looking back on it, I’m not even sure myself. The truth is that dreams can be communicated through the description of the activities and maybe a brief, shallow explanation of the emotions that came with it, but the true feeling and atmosphere of the dream is impossible to communicate. 

One of my favourite authors is George Orwell and in highschool I wrote an essay on the concept of “Newspeak” in 1984 written by him. For the people unfamiliar with Newspeak: it is a concept where instead of having an ever growing vocabulary, the government shortened it to ‘brainwash’ their population. Thus, instead of words like better and bad, you would have ‘plus-good’ or ‘ungood’. In 1940 Orwell wrote an essay called New Words nine years before he would publish 1984. This essay is the ‘prequel’ to this concept of “Newspeak”, where he expresses his desire for an additional vocabulary. 

“Everyone who thinks at all has noticed that our language is practically useless for describing anything that goes on inside the brain.”

Orwell, G. (1940)

With this want for a new vocabulary stated, he gives examples, for such issues.

“To take an obvious case which will not raise side-issues, consider a dream. How do you describe a dream? Clearly you never describe it, because no words that convey the atmosphere of dreams exist in our language.”

Orwell, G. (1940)

He goes on to say that we can give rough descriptions of what happens in our dream, but those descriptions are purely factual and it is well known that dreams are anything but factual. As a solution to this problem he proposes an idea of creating an extra vocabulary to communicate all our unexplainable nighttime happenings. Even though I do agree on this, since having this sort of vocabulary would erase a lot of miscommunications, I wonder about the practicality of just ‘creating’ an entire extra vocabulary. Giving one man, team or country the daunting task of inventing a new vocabulary is a lot of weight on one’s shoulders and the chances of everyone agreeing on that front seems rather slim to me. 

Another article I read from Jennifer Ford (1998) focuses more on the language within a dream, claiming that dreams have a unique language, mainly expressed in ‘Images and Sensations’. I experience this as well, considering I will never really ‘talk’ in my dreams. I communicate through thoughts of my own, so why should I need words? The scenarios and scenes are entirely made up in my own head. Why would I need my imaginary persona to communicate via words, when I can tell myself that they already know? After reading both this article and essay, the connection between them occurred to me. Perhaps the reason for not being able to clearly communicate our dreams is because we do not even know how to clearly communicate in our dreams. We jump from activity to activity, emotion to emotion, yet all of these actions are not addressed in any way. So how can we possibly articulate what happens in dreams and the feeling behind those actions, when we as the dreamer are not even sure of what happened upon waking up, even though in the dreams it all makes perfect sense? When we do not use a coherent language in dreams, we will not be able to convey those dreams in the waking world either. However, that would suggest the new vocabulary we need according to Orwell, would be a vocabulary based on ‘Images and Sensations’, which is quite hard to achieve in the era we live in. But who knows? Maybe in a couple of years the technology will have advanced and instead of a robot apocalypse we all fear, someone invents a way to make ‘Images and Sensations’ communicable. 

However, dreams are also omens to some people. Some may not find it as important to communicate their dreams correctly, but rather to discover the deeper meaning behind it all. They will look at an object in their dreams and see the symbolic value of it. Some people might believe dreams are a look into the future and thus should not be shared in fear of messing up the ‘timeline’. Or perhaps dreams are just not meant to be explained. Maybe dreams are not meant for sharing, but are supposed to be kept secret and personal. Whatever the correct answer might be – if there even is one – until that fantastical new way of communicating has been invented, I will continue to struggle over my words while trying to tell my mother my dream, when we are brushing our teeth in the morning. 

Written by Anouk Roest



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