Sunday, November 06, 2005

Escaping gravity

All of us have dreams in which we are flying. I wonder why that is. Why do we all dream about doing something that none of us has ever done?

In my dreams, people are always amazed that I can fly. I explain that anyone can do it, and I show them how.

When I was younger, I used to fly higher than I do now. I would start running, and somehow get in sync with the wind, and then I would lift off the ground. I would fly high above the trees, cutting great swooping arcs through the sky like a kite. I would feel it in the pit of my stomach, like you do when you drive over the crest of a steep hill.

I didn't flap my arms to fly. Not like the old joke:  I flew in from Miami yesterday … and boy, are my arms tired.

It was just a matter of escaping gravity. As long as my feet were on the ground, gravity had me in its grip. But once I lifted off just a little, I was free:  the sky was the limit.

And why not, I ask? Scientists tell us that gravity is a weak force:
Although it may be hard to believe after you have helped a friend move a sofa up to a third-floor apartment, gravity is by far the weakest of the fundamental forces. The reason it dominates our lives the way it does is that we spend our days on the surface of a huge mass (the earth) that functions as a gigantic generator of gravitational force. However, the fact that you can pick up a nail with a magnet shows that even the entire earth pulling on one side cannot counteract the magnetic force exerted by something that can be held in your hand. (James S. Trefil, The Moment of Creation.)
I still fly in my dreams, just as I did when I was twenty years old, but now I stay much lower to the ground. I've put on a few pounds in the intervening years. Maybe gravity has more of a hold on me.

Or maybe the explanation is psychological. As a kid, I was sure I would grow up to be a pro hockey player. As a teenager, I dreamt instead of being a rock star or a renowned actor. Then, as a young adult, I developed a bit of a Messiah complex:  I was going to save the world, or at least rescue many individuals from their unhappy circumstances.

Much to my surprise, it didn't work out that way. These days, my ambitions are much more modest. I am grateful to have a decent job and provide for my children's financial needs. Mary P. and I bought a house together last June, and I'm relieved that we can make the mortgage payments.

My ambitions are much more modest; and in my dreams, I fly much lower to the ground. Coincidence? I think not.

But I still believe that anyone can do it. Gravity is a weak force. And the human spirit is designed to soar.


At 5:34 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Dreaming of flying comes from spending 9 months in the weightless environment of the womb.

Flying in your dreams is WAY cool though.... Lots of fun.

At 6:04 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I have those dreams, sometimes.

At 6:18 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I have never had a dream where I can fly. I have had dreams where the plane crashed or I was shot, which is why I have trained myself not to dream or remember them at least.

At 6:36 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

I've lost count of the number of times I've been killed in dreams.... Maybe I should change my reading material...?

At 7:10 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Cyberkitten:
In the womb, we don't have a bird's eye view of treetops. Nowhere in our natural experience do we ever see the world from that perspective.

Not that I'm trying to argue for a supernatural explanation of the phenomenon. I'm sure the explanation is natural, but there's much more to the psyche than we yet understand.

• Misanthrope:
I'm somewhat surprised to hear that you've never had (or never remembered) a flying dream. I'm not entirely surprised, because I would have guessed the experience is not absolutely universal. But I think it comes close: I don't know of anyone else who hasn't had such a dream.

At 7:38 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

Nice ruminating post -- not quite as weighty as most of yours. ;)

At 8:39 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger chosha said...

I used to dream I was flying when I was a kid - though only around my bedroom. I wish I still had those dreams.

At 8:42 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger chosha said...

q: I know a lot of people who would say that we gained that experience from astral travelling. I can't decide if I believe that or not, but it would explain the experience.

At 8:53 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Aaron:
Thanks, I enjoyed writing this post and I think it's a good one. It's invigorating to yield to the left side of the brain once in a while.

• Chosha:
I don't know much about astral travel, but I have read just a little C.G. Jung. It makes me think of his notion of a collective unconscious. In this case, it would be shared not only with human beings of other historical eras, but with all living things. Perhaps with an evolutionary origin, if we're descended from other forms of animal life.

I'm not saying that's the explanation. I'm about as committed to it as you are to the astral travel explanation.

At 9:08 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

I dreamt of flying more when I was a child than I do now. For me, in my dreams it's always been a matter of mental focus. Get my mind in the right place, and, whoosh, airborne! Once I'm off the ground, I usually have complete control over my flight, over treetops, around buildings, hills and valleys, meadows and streams, sun and shadow.

Once in a long while, I tumble earthward, or can't get the necessary mental focus to get off the ground - generally because something nasty is rapidly gaining on me, and making it hard to concentrate! Generally, though, dreams of flight are delightful. Too bad they're so much rarer than they once were.

I think it's interesting that most people who have flight dreams say they were more common in childhood, or have ended altogether with maturity.

At 9:17 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger michael said...

used to dream I was flying from place to place. Sure beats walking or taking the bus!

At 10:21 PM, November 06, 2005, Blogger 49erDweet said...

Intriguing post. I do have such dreams, sometimes, but don't remember them very long. Sometimes color, other times not.

When dreaming about my impending death I am somehow able to wake myself up to short-circuit the dream. Don't know how that works.

At 7:18 AM, November 07, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

My flying dreams are pretty much all the same, I sort of levitate a few inches off the floor, lean forward a bit and 'will' myself forward. It is a great way to get around. I remember in my dream being amazing that other people couldn't do it - and in at least one dream I gave classes... The feeling of being able to fly is sometime so strong that even after waking I wonder if I could really do it IRL.

At 7:57 AM, November 07, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I've always dreamed of flying too - I though it was universal - like falling dreams:-)

I think I flew far more in my youth than as a child or adult. Possibly because I really believed anything was possible then, or possibly because flying is a form of escape & I had more to escape from?

Although I KNOW that flying/levitation is completely impossible & I don't believe any of the charletans that claim to do so, I still have a little belief within myself that I could do it if I tried hard enough:-)

At 10:12 AM, November 07, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Mary P.
You raise a good question. I knew my flying dreams had changed since I was younger, but I didn't know that was true for others.

Maybe flying dreams reflect the emotional "ups" of youth, and as we age we become less subject to extreme mood swings?

• 49er:
I haven't studied much about "lucid" dreaming, but it's related to your comment. We dream lucidly when we become aware that we're dreaming, but we continue sleeping … and dreaming.

In your case, you become aware that you're dreaming and choose to wake up — you'd rather not dream about dying.

This is, of course, one of the mysteries of the psyche I was talking about earlier. What exactly is the relationship between dream consciousness and normal consciousness?

Some people train themselves to dream lucidly so they can direct the course of their dreams. I've never tried it myself, but it doesn't surprise me that some people can do it.

• Mrs. Aginoth / Cyberkitten:
I've had the same experience: I've woken up convinced that I could fly, if I could just apply the same technique I used in the dream …

At 10:44 AM, November 07, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I suspect the connection between youth and flying dreams has some significance. Like Q I am not sure it relates to prenatal experiences as the trees and clouds are almost always noted in such dreams. However, If you experienced the sensation of flying wouldn't your psyche fill in the missing elements like trees and clouds?

As for the death dream experience I share 49erdweet's ability to wake myself before my demise, that too seems common. If unconsciousness and sleep are similar, as some have said, and both are governed more by instinct rather than purposeful thought then the fight or flight instinct may goad us to flee back to consciousness were we are sure the dream will end.

Both consciousness and language are processed in the same area of the brain if you anaesthetise the area that governs language then the person may function on a non verbal level but when the anaesthetic wears off he will have no conscious memory of the time spent in that state.

The key that tells us that sleep and unconsciousness are linked is that language is hard to process in dreams. Often written words that appear in our dreams are garbled and math and counting are almost impossible. There is evidence that people that have found solutions to math or logic problems in dreams are in semi waking states. The closer we are to consciousness the more we are able to process communications. However instinct seems to be entirely there during sleep. We will wake in an emergency, we react to stimuli (Poke Poke roll over dear!) But have you tried to talk to someone that is talking in their sleep, it is possible but 50 percent of the time it is garbled nonsense unless the conversation takes place either in the early stages of sleep or just before the sleeper wakes up in the morning.

So in other words the God of the conscious state is language and the God of the unconscious state is Instinct. Therefore when 49erdweet forces himself awake it could be the instinct know as flight or fight, which is common to most animals including man.

That’s my 50 cent theory (could be true or not).

At 10:57 AM, November 07, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I just caught Q's comment in regards to Lucid dreams, these are often waking dreams or as I mentioned in the period of sleep when we are rising out of or going into sleep.

However I have burst awake from a near death dream in the middle of the night, kind of like the screaming child that wakes from a nightmare at 2Am.

That said lucid dreams are cool but I have only been able to direct a dream once before (and not entirely successfully.)

At 1:26 PM, November 07, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I've never dreamed of my own death, do you think that's good or bad?

At 3:49 PM, November 07, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Q have you ever fallen from the sky while dream flying.

I just seem to fall for no reason during dreams, often I'm not sure what I fell from.

At 10:06 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Now I feel completely left out. I even used to watch Superman as a kid, and yet, I still have never dreamt of flying. Oh well, maybe I'm just well grounded. :)

At 11:37 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Bill:
If you experienced the sensation of flying wouldn't your psyche fill in the missing elements like trees and clouds?

What interests me is that we seem to know what the world looks like from that perspective. How would we know? I read on a Web site that flying dreams can be traced back to an ancient era, before airplanes and satellite photography.

Q have you ever fallen from the sky while dream flying.

No, I've never suffered from falling dreams of any sort. A friend of mine did when he was a kid. Then one time, in his dream, he landed in his father's arms, safe and sound. Thereafter he never had the dream again.

• Mrs. Aginoth:
I never dream of dying, either. Even my nightmares don't involve dying.

But I don't remember many of my dreams. The flying dreams are a rare exception — perhaps in part because I've had them so many times.

• Misanthrope:

At 11:53 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: I read on a Web site that flying dreams can be traced back to an ancient era, before airplanes and satellite photography.

Tall buildings...?


Climbing trees....?

At 12:01 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

It's not quite the same thing as flying past treetops, though. But as I said before, I'm not advocating a supernatural explanation. I just find it fascinating.

At 12:21 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I think it's just the epitomy of freedom for us. We have always seen that the skies are a possibility (birds, insects etc), but no-one has reached them, so we srtive through tehnology, and achieve it in our dreams.

I also dream of being in space - even better than flying, zero G seems like paradise in my dreams (I know it's supposed to be stomach churning boredom, but in my dreams, its absolute freedom).

At 1:52 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: It's not quite the same thing as flying past treetops, though. But as I said before, I'm not advocating a supernatural explanation. I just find it fascinating.

Never crossed my mind that you were proposing a supernatural explanation.

However, we've been observing birds for many millenia... It's not a huge leap of the imagination to wonder how they fly & dream about it later....

At 2:22 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Mrs. Aginoth:
That's cool! I've never dreamed of being weightless in space!

• Cyberkitten:
You're not getting my point. Standing on the ground, watching a bird fly, does not tell us what the scenery looks like from the bird's perspective.

Looking at trees while standing on a hilltop doesn't tell us what it looks like to be flying over the trees, either.

It's an experience we've never had, yet we "reproduce" it in our dreams. That is fascinating; how does the psyche do it?

At 2:49 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Standing on a mountain top does give us some perspective on flying, so we do have some idea what it is like visually. However the flying dream seems to give us the feeling of flying.

Having experienced a verticle wind tunnel flight, the experience in a flying dream is not much different.

Why I don't know I had the dreams for years before I did the wind tunnel flight.

At 3:11 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: It's an experience we've never had, yet we "reproduce" it in our dreams. That is fascinating; how does the psyche do it?

The Human Imagination is a wonderful thing. Characters in novels do things that have never been done before & possible can never be done. I can imagine what it must be like to fly like a bird.. the imagination inside the dream state just adds in the rest. It's not as if we can compare the dream-flying to the real thing after all.. at least not easily.

At 4:14 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

You're speaking to a totally non-visual person. I can conjure up only the vaguest mental image of my own mother.

At 6:45 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

I've never had dreams that I can fly. I do have a lot of dreams about airplanes flying overhead, and tornados flying over me (they're always strangely benevolent). I liked your description of it though.

At 10:07 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Interesting. You and Misanthrope have never had a flying dream. I wonder what percentage never have such a dream?


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