I had this weird thought last week after I dreamt that I was licked by a cow in Venice.
This is what I posted up on the old Facebook that morning (because of course everyone in my immediate circle, my Dunbar’s number and beyond, my mum, my son, someone I crossed paths with in 2014 for a week and the people I went to school with needed to know).
When I woke up, the memory of the sensation of being licked in the face by a cow in Venice was very real. I woke up feeling slightly disgusted. I could still ‘feel’ the sensation of the warm, solid yet a bit fatty tongue moving slowly across my cheek. The tongue (and the cow’s breath) smelt of digesting grass. I could still smell it in the back of my nostrils as I opened my eyes that morning. I could vividly recall the wetness on my cheek after I was licked. It was as if I really had been licked by a cow. The Venice part isn’t so important perhaps. I haven’t been to Venice for over 20 years, whether that is of interest or not I don’t know.
My weird thought is as follows: since I haven’t actually ever been licked by a cow in the face (in Venice or in any other town, city, village, metropolis, or countyside location), how is it that I can recreate it in my dream so well and now describe it as if it really happened? What is it about my imagination that can form such an experience in my head, as if it actually happened? How are we able to ‘remember’ how something feels if we haven’t ever actually felt it in real life?
This also applies to those sorts of dreams we don’t like to talk about in polite company. What I mean by this is dreams where we get a little too familiar than we’d like to in real life with people we have never met perhaps, and certainly, even if we have, never entertained the notion of, familiarity. In my case, I have a list of such ‘lucky’ people: Billy from EastEnders, Jeremy Kyle, a smattering of people I know in the real world who in waking life I wouldn’t ever entertain the notion of a lingering hug never mind anything else, and, lastly, Gordon Brown, the ex-leader of the Labour Party. So how is it that I can imagine what special hugs with Gordon Brown would feel like if I’ve never met the guy or even partook in special hugs or any other type of hugs with him? How does my brain create sensations which to me are quite sophisticated and detailed, to the extent that in my logical head (the tiny part of the my head that is logical) they need to be experienced to be recreated in the imagination? The mind is a fascinating beast if it has this talent. If we take it as given that the mind really can create (note, not recreate) an event such as being licked by a cow or Gordon Brown in great detail then we really are clever. And therefore can we trust our minds? Is there not the risk of a dream being mistaken for a memory at some point in the future? Will I lie on my death bed and tell my great, great, great grandchildren about the time I met the leader of the Labour Party? I hope not.
What do the scientists have to say about this? I couldn’t find anything on the World Wide Web to help me here. However, I found one website that claimed that vivid dreams are a sign of mental illness.
I do suspect there is something deeply troubling going on inside my head. But I’m not going to go there, right now. Ignorance is bliss and anyway, I’m tired now.