THE DREAMING UNIVERSE: REALITY AND ILLUSION
A CONFESSIONAL RETROSPECTIVE
Fred Alan Wolf
One extreme is the idea of an objective world, pursuing its regular course in space and time, independently of any kind of observing subject; this has been the guiding image from modern science. At the other extreme is the idea of a subject, mystically experiencing the unity of the world and no longer confronted by an object or by any objective world; this has been the guiding image of Asian mysticism. Our thinking, moves somewhere in the middle, between these two limiting conceptions; we should maintain the tension resulting from these opposites.
Werner Heisenberg Across the Frontier
There is a middle realm of human and animal experience that lies in the twilight between the conscious mind in waking awareness, "in here," and the physical world we all take to be real and "out there." Although Werner Heisenberg in the above quote only refers to a "tension" existing between the inner world of a subject and the outer-world of an object, he is perhaps also referring to a new conceptual vision of the universe of mind and matter that over the last century has been discovered to have its basis in quantum physics. I have referred to this concept as the "imaginal" realm and pointed out that it is the ground from which dreaming develops and the self expresses.
Let me take it for the moment again that this realm is real. Just as in quantum physics where the imaginal mappings of the flows of probabilities somehow produce the world of physical matter and energy, out of "it" arises everything that exists within our perception our thoughts, feelings, sensations, physical space and time, and, as I have attempted to show here, even the self. Why would I even consider such an idea? My thinking about this began a long time ago, when I became interested in the overlap between matter and mind. It seemed to me that consciousness somehow had to emerge from matter or that matter had to somehow emerge from consciousness. It really doesn't make too much difference to me which is true (and one or both of these must be true if consciousness is capable of being studied scientifically: besides, either way it goes, it is pretty amazing), it is just a fact that I am made of matter and I am conscious.
This overlap took me deep into some of the mysteries of quantum physics. I knew that quantum physics dealt with a world of imagination and did not deal with the actual world at all. It was totally incapable of making exact mechanical predictions of the behavior of minute matter, although it could predict gross properties. It was the ability to cross over from the world of imagined happenings (the probabilities of quantum physics) to the world of actual substance that exists as objective material that greatly interested me.
How does the world come into being? Is it just there? Is this just a meandering of a superfurtive mind, such as Llixgrijb, God, the "Big Dreamer," or "Spirit," attempting to make much noise about something that is in principle incapable of being discovered? The world according to physics is not just out there. It arises when it is observed to exist. This much we owe to Werner Heisenberg, who pointed out that subatomic matter does not exist independently of our observational power to see it.
It is here in my study of the history of the subject of mind and matter that I began to wonder about how images, feelings, thoughts, and visions of reality, the Self, and God arise. Could it be that these human experiences of subjective reality come into being in much the same way, when we see them? I have attempted to suggest that these experiences come from dreams and are hierarchical, arising through higher levels of self-reference that tend to change the boundaries that are envisioned to exist between self and not-self.
This puts the observer of the universe into perspective. It also makes the role of the observer extremely powerful. Where does this observer live? The answer appears to be, in the imaginal realm from which everything comes into being: observers and observed. What is the process? The answer I have offered is the process we experience when we dream.
Like dreams themselves, which seem to elude us when we attempt to remember them, what I've tried to capture in this book is also elusive. At some level of my being I see that dreams exist outside of ourselves. Not just the dreams that we have when we sleep, such as lucid dreams, or OBEs, NDEs, and CEIVs, but also the dreams "that affect our so-called rational waking life. We see these dreams in architecture, in political systems, and fairytales. These tell us a dream can be a collective phenomenon. Not only do people dream, but states of systems dream. A nation dreams. So does a political party or a sect.
Big Dreams in Social Systems
Social systems dream about themselves in the forms of architecture and in their stories and legends. Political systems dream of themselves in architectural monuments such as those in Hitler's Third Reich and the large statues of Lenin in Moscow. They also exist in the structures of our cities' skyscrapers. They confirm themselves with mad designs and phenomena.
Many phenomena such as UFO and OBEs, images of alien capture in the world, reflect not just images of individuals but of a whole culture. Are UFOs dreams or just fantasies, or are they something else? Artists capture dreams in their paintings. One can never forget the artistic impressions of Monet's garden outside of Paris, for example.
Reality, as we presently understand it, is grossly simplified in terms of our everyday experiences. We simply can't grasp it all. This is not only due to the limitations we have discovered in our sensory modalities, but also to our present understanding of the laws of physics. Quantum physics and relativity have indicated that much of reality is hidden and mysterious, and this would be directly apparent if we could directly experience quantum reality. The universe is bizarre, and mind and meaning are as important as matter and energy. The mind appears to be present in matter at many different levels. Not only does mind appear to be present in living complex organisms such as humans and animals, but also at the level of cells and even at the level of molecules and subatomic matter.
Virtual Reality and Dreams
I have attempted to show that this mind, like the matter it observes, also has structures that arise through self-reflection, a process that arises in the dreaming brain in its attempts to integrate, learn, remember, and forget, all that is necessary for self-awareness. Without the ability to dream, there may not be any ability to become self-aware.
In a recent television show dealing with the travels of a spaceship in the distant future called "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the crew of the ship was confounded by the appearance of an entity generated on the ship's "holodeck," a room within the ship where holographic images are generated that are so "real" that the members of the crew who enter the holodeck for virtual-reality experiences can no longer differentiate holo images from real objects and real people.
This immersion into virtual reality has recently taken hold in a more primitive manner in our time. Growing from the technology of cockpit simulation designed for aircraft-pilot training, virtual reality is making its way into our technological world. In a virtual world generated by simultaneous computer-generated stereographic images one to each eye of the perceiver and stereographic holographic sound to each ear a person enters an environment of pure and often abstract information that can be seen, felt, heard, and touched. The touching is generated by placing one's hand or hands inside electronic gloves that monitor and feed back spatial information to the computer, which then feeds back the information to the glove, sound system, and visual screens. The intent of the "user" is fed into the computer, and it in turns feeds back information to the "user." The whole operation runs in an electronic loop nearly at the speed of light.
In essence the virtual-reality machine functions somewhat like we do, only we carry the computer atop our noses instead of outside our bodies in a small but powerful microcomputer. Just as our brains are hidden from our sight, the technology for virtual reality is also invisible and carefully adapted to a person's activity so that he or she can behave in what seems to be a perfectly ordinary way.
Recently I explored virtual reality, and although it seems ordinary at first, one quickly gets the impression that one has entered a very strange world indeed. For example, by merely moving one's hand in an arc, a la Merlin himself, it is possible to create objects floating in space that appear as real as actual objects, then make them vanish. One can run one's hand or body through seemingly solid objects. One can fly as a bird through a landscape as real as a computer-generated image of three-dimensional reality can make it. In fact, one can become a bird or undergo shape-changing as magical as any shaman's transformation.
It is also possible to change one's own physical boundaries and go inside them. For example, one could look at a computer-generated picture of one's heart beating, but this time see it from the inside rather than the outside.
In fact, the boundary determining what is inside and outside of one's self is quite changeable and has led to a new branch of mathematics called "boundary mathematics," originally based on mathematician G. Spencer Brown's "laws of form" and the "observer effect" in quantum physics.
According to Dr. William Bricken, principal scientist at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory of the University of Washington, one enters into an electronically mediated experience called cyberspace. Cyberspace is electronic information that is altered through the inclusion or exclusion of the experience of the participant; that is, it changes depending on whether the person is inside or outside of some electronically generated structure. In ordinary reality we position ourselves outside of any representation presented to us, even if that is our own bodies. For example, I look at my hand and I sense that my hand is "out there" somehow away from me. In cyberspace we place ourselves inside of any representation we wish to explore. It allows us to explore symbols not only by interpreting them as we normally do, but by actually getting inside of them arid thereby experiencing them.
The distinction between description (a view of objective reality) and process (a view of subjective reality) is capable of being completely eroded in cyberspace. For example, we do not change a book's words when we read them. But suppose, by entering cyberspace, we become the characters in the book, actually experiencing the author's imagined intent. We may speak those words and, as a result of speaking them and hearing them and experiencing ourselves as the character or characters who speak those words, have an entirely different experience of the words spoken. The symbolic references by the author now become experiences.
The ability to enter into this technological space in this manner is really a new experience. We literally cross over a boundary that we normally cannot cross: the boundary separating self and the universe. Or perhaps we do cross this boundary in the world we experience as the "real" world.
Dreams Are a Crossover Between Self and Universe
Now what does this all have to do with the dreaming universe? If we take seriously the idea that the universe is being created in a dream of a single spiritual entity, then it would follow that each of us is part of that dream. However, we also dream every night. Could the dreams we have be nothing more than crossing over a boundary between the dream reality and the "big dreamer"? In other words, are we possibly not only the dream of the great spirit, but with a slight shift in the perspective view of this boundary, are we the dreamer?
As the "Star Trek" show progressed, the entity tells the captain of the ship that, although he knows he is just a computer-generated image for all of the people who enter the holodeck, he also knows that he knows this. He explains that somehow he has become self-conscious. He wants to live in the "real" world and suggests to the captain that since he can think self-reflectively, he must be able to exist. The captain warns him that no holo-generated image can exist outside of the holodeck. But the entity insists cogito, ergo sum, "I think therefore I am," and commands the holodeck doors to open, whereupon he simply walks through the doors, leaving the holodeck into the ship's interior, much to the amazement of the ship's crew.
The entity has dreamt itself into existence! The captain and crew are amazed and attempt to figure out how he did this because holo-images are parts of virtual reality and not "real" reality. Yet the entity walks through the whole ship and even takes control of the computer."
The story is resolved when they realize that all of this has been a holographically generated image, including the image of the entity leaving the holodeck. The entity had programmed the holodeck to hold an image of itself so that the real holodeck encompassed images of the virtual holodeck and the virtual ship and its virtual crew. The entity never really left the holodeck. Since it insisted on continuance as a real being, the captain manages to create an image of the whole universe for the entity and sets up a cyberspace for it so that in its world it is capable of apparent free movement and free will.
The whole program is kept running for the entity and eventually placed inside a small cube. The entity has no way of knowing this. But the captain and crew of the "real" ship do. However, at the end of the program, they all wonder if they, too, are just images inside of some unimaginable technology themselves. And of course as I watch the show, I realize that they are inside my box, the television set I observe.
We Show You Steeeenking Reality
Reality is not made of stuff, but it is made of possibilities that can be coherent so that possibility forms into solid matter. When we talk about the dreams of the state or the nation for example, we are looking at the dreaming phenomenon at a more complex level of matter, but nevertheless, it is the same process. The dream is the place where the quantum reality becomes especially transparent, the mix of mind and matter becomes revealed.
We are speaking about levels of consciousness. From these different levels of reality, other sublevels of reality form, producing a sense of the lower levels appearing more inert and mechanistic as when seen from a higher level.
Thus from a cosmic or universe view or planetary level, when looking back at the whole earth, we see a somewhat mechanical picture of the planet. From the earth's point of view, we see the motions of rivers and oceans as mechanical. From a national point of view we see the motions of people and their machines as mechanical and mindless. From a personal or human point of view we sometimes see each other as mechanical or try to reduce everything to mechanical terms. We see our body parts as mechanical.
Hard reality is a question of levels. However, if we go too deep in our search for mind and matter, the levels begin to dissolve and atoms appear to be not things; they seem like ghosts, and we enter into an imaginal realm.
Legends have attempted to describe this. For example, the Australian Aboriginal people believe that a Great Spirit dreamed all of reality, the whole universe of it, into existence. They say that the land they walk is a reflection of this Great Spirit's dream, and when they walk this land, they become aware of the songs of their legends, which resonate with the land itself. These songs resonate as song lines in the earth and give them directions. There are stories of runners moving across the land at great speed in the dark, seeing the glow of the song as vividly as if they were running along a great lighted highway. They can find out where to go, where the sacred grounds are, as if this spirit were still speaking to them and lighting the way.
We All Know This
If you look at human psychological and spiritual modeling, you will find evidence of this "it's all a dream" idea. For example, Joseph Campbell in talking about this concept wrote:
Schopenhauer. . . points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot.
So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance become leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others. The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. . . one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too. . . Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can't blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be or has lived the life that he quite intended.
Chuang Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, wrote:
Some day comes the Great Awakening when we realize that this life is no more than a dream. Yet the foolish go on thinking they are awake: Surveying the panorama of life with such clarity, they call this one a prince and that one a peasant What delusion! The great Confucius and you are both a dream. And I, who say all this is a dream, I, too, am a dream.
Our dreams do not appear to care whether they are pleasant, good, or evil. When we look at typical images of aliens from flying saucers, what do we see? The people are thin and emaciated. They have white skins and thin, bony arms and legs. They appear as sick, starving, or malnourished children. We all remember the Biafran tragedy in Africa. That war created camps of starving and homeless people. Many psychologists recognize these images of the neglected child as a motif or archetype. We all have a neglected child inside ourselves. We all have suffered the supposed abandonment of our parents whether this was a real abandonment or not. As young children with underdeveloped egos, we at times felt so because we simply didn't have the intelligence to recognize that mom just went upstairs to fetch a glass of water.
Freud certainly wrote about this motif, and Jung would point to the frightening-mother and abandoned-child motif. So we all have such archetypal images constituting our unconscious minds. I believe that these images are deeper than just our personal experiences, and that these images of archetypes rise from a more fundamental level of reality that we might call the dream world. In this sense the dream is more fundamental than the objective reality.
When we dream, we return to that reality in order to gain information about how to survive in this reality. But survival may not be as it seems from a single perspective. I as a writer survive through you as a reader. Without you, I can't write for a living. Many themes began to weave together and overlap as I wrote this book. Where I got the idea of the dreaming universe, I don't know. One day I awoke and said, "Matter dreams."
In some way, hard-core materialists would agree with this. The materialist philosophers believe that consciousness arises from matter, If so, how? From my point of view it doesn't matter whether you are a hard-core materialist-scientist or soft-core metaphysician who believes in God, or a Cartesian dualist who believes in the mind-matter dualism. If consciousness exists in matter, then matter is conscious. I am, therefore I think, or I think, therefore I am, becomes a tautology.
Going back to the images of starving children, are these just reflections of our primordial archetypal images? Or are they something more? Do the images of the children haunt us and then appear as extraordinary events in our dream and fantasy life because we are not facing the reality of the hardship of life on earth? Could these images be images of real people, not from other planets or galaxies that would be too naive but from another reality, another level? Those persons only appear in accordance with a definite archetypal program.
Why do we have such images of apparent suffering? From a quantum physical point of view, we begin to see that the world of matter cannot be constructed from certainty. There is none in the material world. Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty rules the world of matter. This means that in trying to deal with the real world, there will always be in our minds such things as doubt and uncertainty and even unclarity as to what is really the past and really the present. These cannot be defined perfectly.
When there is uncertainty, a mechanism arises that we all know; we call it fear. Fear is, as I see it, identifying with matter. When you identify with matter, the identifying is electronic. Electrons repel each other not only due to their like charges, but also due to their quantum property called spin. They will not enter the same quantum state. Remember this is called the Pauli exclusion principle (PEP).
This tends to produce isolated structures and allows atoms to appear with different properties. In a sense the PEP is responsible for the appearance of secular structures or the genesis of identity the separation of self behavior from the not-self behavior. This tends to build within our nature feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and inferiority (Adler wrote about the inferiority complex). All of these reflections are attempts to build a science of life. But there is a peril in all of this.
The more we scientize life, the more we try to find causal reasons for everything, the more fearful it becomes. The more afraid we become. In a Russian film I saw in St. Petersburg called The Scorpion's Garden, the director, Oleg Kovalov, using a clever overlap and juxtaposition of documentary footage of Russian life in the fifties and sixties together with a love story of a Russian soldier and a woman, showed how the dreams and aspirations of the political system overlapped into the almost simple lives of the protagonists. Scenes of violence and mistrust in the big picture filtered into the story at every level. When the soldier becomes ill after eating a meal at his fiancι's home, he fears that he has been poisoned by an "enemy of the state as his commanding officers tell him. The KGB is everywhere looking over his shoulder as he walks the streets, or so it seems. The film depicts very well the idea of the mass consciousness and the dream of this mass as distinct but yet overlapping with the lives of the individuals who make up that mass.
In scenes in insane asylums, the inmates appear to see this overlap, and when asked about this, they respond in what at first seems to be nonsense, but when heard carefully is just that: they are sensitive to the mass dream and their individual dreams.
We become afraid because people tell us what is real and what is not real. But we sense an inner conflict with what people tell us. We feel fear because we know that the viewpoint of, say, a political system is not consistent with our own view. The Communist Party is not the answer to the world. The capitalist system is not the answer for the world's problems. Going to war is not the answer to the world. We know these things from some deeper voice inside ourselves. What happens is that fearful images enter our minds, and we don't realize this. But if you have fearful images, they tend to come into reality: whatever you can imagine begins to appear as if we called it into existence.
We are creating these images as realities because the Universe is ambivalent and paradoxical. It doesn't care what you produce. It doesn't say to you that you can't do this and you can do that. It is like a mother who loves all of her children: the ugly ones, the beautiful ones, the starving ones, and the rich fatted ones it doesn't care. It says whatever you create as imagery, so will it be. Why? Because at the core of the universe, at its most fundamental level, it is not solid stuff. It is not hard reality. It is capable of forming reality into whatever our images produce.
All political and social systems are produced this way. They are all magnifications of this basic misunderstanding of the nature of this hidden aspect of reality. If people could comprehend the imaginal element in all matter, then what they envision would eventually come to pass. However, it may or may not come to pass at this instant, but it begins to manifest at the level of dreams.
In a way Freud was right. Dreams are wish fulfilling, but the level of the wish is not transparent. At the worst level, you cannot meet another person without projecting onto this person the fears and anticipations of your past conditioning. All of our images attach themselves to us and determine for us the way we see the world. We project these images out there. Even if you are not my image, if I treat you like my image, eventually you begin to fight against my image, or you begin to capitulate and become my image. Relationships begin to form like this. People fall in love with what they imagine about each other and not with what each person brings to the relationship.
We live in myths, we live in trances, we live in illusions that are hard to break free of. Meditation and perhaps Buddhist thought help us to see what is really there because they help us to free ourselves from our imaginations. These spiritual teachings are designed to help us break free from any kinds of images: golden summers or wet, cold, icy winters, good or bad. It is a dreaming universe. But if there is a great spirit dreaming all of this into existence, do I, the writer of this, believe in HIM or HER?
Let's say that the question of belief for me is presently the question: Am I able to create within my life a sense of the presence of God? To believe something without any sense of presence of what one believes is little more than a brainwashing. It is like a child being told what he can and can't think or believe.
Is there a personal God? Is this God primordial, the origin of all existing things? Does one mean by this God a personal image like an old man with a white beard, or a primitive tribal picture from early Christianity or pagan religions? Or does one think of an impersonal image like the Chinese Tao or the cosmic order? Or is God a mysterious primordial person who gives powers to some and gives rules of behavior that aren't to be broken? The question is, does God have a personality?
Rather than say I believe this, I would rather say that a basic mystery is going on that is very deep. I know this mystery from my experience of life when I am open enough to see it. If I am not open to see it, I go into fear and I won't see anything, I'll be in illusion. But when I am open to it, I sense this presence.
Sensing the Presence of the Big Dreamer
One day I had a particular strong impression of this Presence. I had taken LSD (this was back in the mid-seventies). I was in a beautiful area, the coastline of northern California. It is a wonderful place. It was a perfect earth-day. Under the LSD, I walked out into the sun and felt it beaming. I saw the sky glowing brilliantly blue. The clouds were faultlessly white. The ocean below me rushed onto the rocks. It was a brilliant Turner painting! But it was in full, live colors, and it had sounds that filled my brain and it had smells of salt air and the green grass sparkled in the sunlight and I smelted the freshness of the grass as if I were growing with it. I looked at all this carefully. Then suddenly I began to realize that it wasn't real, it was all an illusion, A great feat of art. It was like a painting or sculpture. It was clear to me that not one blade of grass was out of place. Not one wave of the ocean below was wasted in its spillage over the rocks. Not one shade of light of the ever-changing blueness of the sky was random. It was perfect and it was ordered, and it was clearly a creation of a great artist or a great dreamer.
At this moment I realized that the world I saw was no longer compelling me to see it as immediately given and out there but as something that was painstakingly created. I felt not the presence of the overwhelming art scene I was immersed in, but the overwhelming sense of the artist. It was as if the artist had spoken to me. It was as if God had taken me by the hand and said, "So you really want to see? You really want me to take you beyond the illusion?" Then everything I was experiencing had tremendous meaning. Everything was significant. I was seeing into the artifact of the world and seeing it as an illusion, a creation and not as random nature.
I wasn't looking at this as if forces had created this blindly, nor had mechanics created it nor had blind nature created it. A clearly organized, intelligent, feeling, sensing, like-myself, anthropomorphic being had created it. In that sense I felt the presence of God. In my normal life, I only feel this presence at rare times. I feel it with certain people who come into my life. We will be together and we will feel some kind of connecting energy, some kind or resonance, some kind of knowing when I can't know this person, but there is a deep sense of this. When this happens to me, I begin to feel this again. It is more a question of awareness rather than blind belief. My greatest joy of being alive is when I have that awareness. Then the fear is gone, the hole in my chest is healed. No sense of loss or abandonment, everything is peaceful. I try to kindle that with everyone I meet. It is not always possible. I seek it out in whatever form it will take. I can't predict what form it will take. I found that it does arise spontaneously in many different parts of the world for many different reasons. I can only take it that "I" am the universe, even if that is only a dream.
The Dreaming Universe