Dream logic

The topic of dream logic is interesting, and — I’m sure you will agree — worth a blog post. By the term, I’m referring to the built-in knowledge you have in dreams, knowledge which often makes no sense. For instance, you’ll have a dream where a UFO descends from the skies and an alien steps out and approaches you. Then your real-life friend Paul appears and somehow you know that Paul is this alien’s brother. Another example: you’re in a dream and someone says “Let’s go to McDonald’s.” Even though this is the first time the topic has appeared in the dream, you immediately know that McDonald’s is behind the building you’re standing next to.

When you think about this, this is fascinating. You’re dreaming not of an event or image, but knowledge itself. You’re dreaming of those great intangible things called ideas.

Bit of a tangent here, but this article, by a cognitive scientist, comments on the topic.

We need to see, first, that in approaching the topic of human thought, we usually stop half-way through. In fact, the human mind moves back and forth along a spectrum defined by ordinary logic at one end and “dream logic” at the other. “Dream logic” makes just as much sense as ordinary “day logic”; it simply follows different rules. But most philosophers and cognitive scientists see only day logic and ignore dream logic — which is like imagining the earth with a north pole but no south pole.

So how can dream logic work? I was thinking along the following lines. I’ve stated before my belief in the notion that our mental concepts are kind of like networks. I have a mental concept of Marilyn Monroe which ties together nodes representing blond hair, a mole, good looks, a person fated to tragedy etc. And, of course, each of those nodes is really itself a network. Blond hair is comprised of nodes representing yellow, long stringy things, silkiness etc.

Additionally, I think these networks are essentially real things: interwoven groups of neurons in the brain, ending at the most granular point, the synapse between two “arms and legs” of different neurons. (That’s the basic argument of modern neuroscience in a nutshell.)

My thinking about dream logic is that we have networks not just for concrete concepts like a person e.g. Marilyn Monroe, but for ideas. Ideas like “that guy is that guy’s brother” or “this thing is behind the building I’m next to.” These are basically the ideas of relationships; they can exist on their own but to really function they need to be tied into other concepts. So I have a network representing the idea that two people are brothers, and it can be connected to Paul and the alien, John and Robert Kennedy, me and my brother etc. During the course of dreaming, these “relationship concepts” get activated for mysterious reasons, but no more mysterious than the reasons dreams occur at all.

On a side note, it would then follow that if I had a stroke or something that obliterated the neural network representing “these guys are brothers” then I would not be able to fathom the concept. And while I’ve never heard of that specific example happening, I have heard of things like people losing the ability to categorize life into plants and animals etc. They lose their sense of certain categories, and categories are really what relationships are.

4 Responses to “Dream logic”


  1. John Saleeby

    That’s something I have been thinking about lately – Something will be happening in a dream but you somehow already know other details that give the action deeper meaning. Like you may dream that you are walking down the hall but you also know that you are walking away from a room because Wil Forbis is in it and you don’t want to be around the jerk. Or you may dream about meeting the young Adolf Hitler and somehow know that he hates Wil Forbis so much that if you help him kick that dumb ol’ Forbis’ ass he won’t be angry enough to start the Holocaust. Dreams are weird.

  2. Wil

    HITLER’S A BOZO!

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