My dreams have become increasingly literal over the last several years. Last night, for example, after watching football all day, I had a dream in which the Giants quarterback Eli Manning appeared. He seemed like a nice guy. My interpretation of the dream: Eli Manning seems like a nice guy. I also had a dream in which I was upset because I was going bald. My interpretation: I don’t want to go bald.
As a kid, I remember having incredibly vivid dreams of flying through panoramic vistas, being chased by monsters, finding a UFO in my backyard. Dreams were events; now they are even more banal than my actual life. Soon I imagine I will simply dream about everything I did the previous day, only I will be bearing beige.
I read somewhere that this is a common experience. Dreams seem to decrease in intensity as we age. Which is kind of sad. Kids don’t need the added excitement that dreams provide. They already spend most of their time freaking out. A lot of somnambulant adults, on the other hand, could use a brain jolt now and again. Like that guy Jared from the Subway commercials. He seems like he could use one.
Or maybe the adult mind just craves rest and doesn’t want to deal with the inexplicable. Maybe actual life is inexplicable enough. Or maybe our brains are so filled with computer passwords and cellphone numbers that we don’t have any more room for awesome flying laser monkeys. Did our ancestors have better dreams when they had less stuff to carry around in their heads?
Maybe rationality killed dreams. Once we started learning about the world, maybe the brain stopped trying to make sense of it for us. Maybe once you stop believing in magic the brain stops trying to make you believe. It’s like the brain is saying, “Yeah, you can’t fly. Here’s a dream about soup.”
It seems like the opposite should be true. It seems like the brain should do everything in its power to expand our belief in our own potential. After all, when we talk about all the things we want to achieve in our lives, we talk about “our dreams.” Shouldn’t the brain be supporting this instead of cutting us down to size? Perhaps the brain is actually a sadistic bastard who gives you a taste of a horizonless world as a kid and then slowly pushes in the walls, so that we end up feeling as though our entire lives are like the trash compactor scene in Star Wars.
Another, more optimistic theory is that, as our dreams become less wondrous, the real world may start to appear more so. Of course this theory requires one of two things: a lack of cynicism or an abundance of mescaline.
Like a lot of people, I often find myself happily dumbstruck by the natural world. In American Beauty Ricky says “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.” That’s how I feel a lot of the time. I also feel that way when I eat at McDonalds, but I suspect that’s because my heart literally is caving in and not because of anything particularly beautiful.
Maybe dreams are nothing more than our brains collecting our experiences like playing cards and shuffling them back into order. Maybe as we get older, it just gets better at organization. I guess that’s okay with me. The more I know about the world, the more I want to know. I spend a lot of time reading about science and outer space and string theory and all the stuff out there that is both fantastic and real. When you look at pictures of galaxies and atoms and have the maturity to understand that the actual world is crazier than anything our brains can imagine, I’m happy to forgo the flying laser monkeys.