My fascination with dream characters began while I was in college. That’s when, in the midst of a dream in which I knew I was dreaming (a ‘lucid dream’), I had my first encounter with an older gentleman, who tried to convince me that, actually, my experience wasn’t a dream. Over the next two decades, this man appeared in several other of my lucid as well as non-lucid dreams. He always maintained he was real, one time going as far as to suggest that we were sharing a common dream or, even more unsettling, that I was a character in his dream. Setting aside the intriguing nature of these exchanges, several aspects of this enigmatic dream figure were particularly striking, including his clever discourse, the liveliness of his gaze (which gave me a genuine feeling of ‘being looked at’ by another sentient being), and the fact that I never quite knew what he would do or say next.
Of course, characters in our dreams can appear one-dimensional or behave like mere ‘extras’ in a play, but others, like the gentleman I came to know, evince an intriguing degree of psychological depth – saying and doing things as if acting upon their own thoughts or feelings. Moreover, much as in waking life, we sometimes encounter people in our dreams whose actions elicit a myriad of physical and emotional responses within ourselves. Through their choice of words, facial expressions, tone of voice and mannerisms, not only can dream characters pull us into all kinds of discussions and interactions but, more amazing still, they can display convincing behaviours and feelings in response to different events taking place within the dream world.
Even in lucid dreams then, it is your dreaming brain, and not your conscious self, that is the true director and producer. Herein lies one of the great and often underappreciated mysteries of dreams: your brain is responsible for creating both your sense of self in the dream (often as a first-person participant or observer) as well as the virtual world with which you interact – including the people, animals and sordid creatures you might encounter – but it keeps key aspects of this process outside of your awareness. Alongside innumerable details of the setting (such as whether the sky is clear or dotted with clouds), this almost always includes what dream characters opt to say and do in your dreams, whether you’re lucid in them or not. [Continue reading…]