Most of us believe that our self -- leaving aside what that word truly means -- is something solid and real. But there's plenty of evidence all around us that calls this assumption into question.
Which is an understatement.
Because that evidence actually demolishes the notion of an enduring unchanging self. So those who claim that notions about awareness, consciousness, or soul point to a self that is a fixed North Star in a constellation of change have a lot of explaining to do.
For mental illness can markedly change the contours of a person's self. So can dementia, where someone becomes a very different person after their brain stops to function as it should. Psychedelics can alter our sense of self big time. And then there's dreaming.
Dreams are fascinating because almost always (lucid dreams are a rare exception) the dreamer feels that what they're experiencing in a dream is true, regardless of how freaking weird that dream may be.
Last night I had a dream that was so powerful, when I woke up from it my first impression upon opening my eyes was that I was a different person from who I was when I went to sleep. It took a minute or two for my memories of myself to return fully to my awareness.
During that time I was in a strange halfway state between the decidedly weird dream and my usual existence. It reminded me a bit of the passage in the writings of Chuang Tzu where he wonders whether he was a man having a dream of being a butterfly or a butterfly having a dream of being a man.
I also thought about this passage back in 2011 after waking up from a dream, as I wrote about in "I dreamed within a dream. Felt a lot like reality."
Last night, I didn't dream within a dream. I was just totally immersed in the dream. It had a school theme, which my wife tells me she often dreams about also. I guess school used to be so important to our youthful self, it comes up again in our dreams when we're much older.
In my dream I was late for school. It was unclear what school. Sometimes it seemed like elementary school, sometimes like high school, sometimes like college. Which covers all my schooling bases.
I couldn't find any socks. I looked everywhere where socks should be. They weren't there. But I did find shoes. White shoes. Dirty white shoes, though. Mud all over them. I tried to clean them up so I could go to school. However, all my attempts at cleaning failed.
Heading to breakfast, I couldn't find the vegetarian Little Links (a Loma Linda product) that I eat almost every morning. Looked everywhere. No Little Links. But there were lots of strange people in the place where I lived.
Somehow that seemed normal. Dreams are that way. Weird seems normal. I didn't know what my school schedule was. I knew that I was supposed to attend some classes, but I had no idea what classes I was supposed to go to.
Another problem was that I was behind in the classwork, even though I couldn't remember the classes I was supposed to be doing work in.
There was more to the dream, of course. These are just some themes in the dream that I jotted down upon waking. It was reassuring when I woke up and, after a brief period of confusion about who I was and where I was, realized that I couldn't be late for school because I was all done with school.
What struck me, though, was what I mentioned above: how real dreams can feel even when their content makes little or no sense and is highly fantastical.
Which should make not only me, but everybody who remembers some of their dreams, wonder what in our daily waking life that seems so real and true, actually may not be. For we all have a sense of rightness about our everyday experience.
Is that sense justified? Arguably we have no way of knowing, since if everyday life is akin to a dream, it will seem absolutely real and true until we wake up from it. Assuming this is possible.
Until that possibly possible moment comes, all we can do is just act in accord with what we perceive as being real and true, in the same fashion as I fruitlessly looked for socks in my dream.
Thankfully, in my waking state I realized that they're still sitting in my socks drawer.