I’m currently reading a book on physics titled ‘The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?’ by Paul Davies which, as with almost any book I read on science, philosophy or religion, has me thinking about the nature of existence, the universe and mortality. In particular, a quote in the first chapter reminded me of a thought I’ve often had: that life is like a lucid dream, or a video game in which the parameters are limitless, and one is free to roam the world as one wishes. Here is the quote:
“Somehow the universe has engineered, not just its own awareness, but also its own comprehension. Mindless, blundering atoms have conspired to make not just life, not just mind, but understanding. The evolving cosmos has spawned beings who are able not merely to watch the show, but to unravel the plot. What is it that enables something as small and delicate and adapted to terrestrial life as the human brain to engage with the totality of the cosmos and the mathematical tune to which it dances?”
The notion that life is a play, a game, an illusion, is ancient and rooted in literary, religious and mythological tradition. But what does it really mean to say those things about life? The fact that we can, as Paul Davies points out, unravel the plot and understand the rules of the game of life says something extraordinarily profound about what it means to be alive.
My One and Only Lucid Dream
I still remember the only lucid dream I’ve ever had. I had it when I was in sixth grade. The dream took place on the campus of my middle school. I was roaming the campus when all of a sudden I became aware of the fact that I was dreaming, and decided to take advantage of that fact in order to see if I could go outside the bounds of what I was currently seeing. The best way to explain what I mean by “going outside the bounds” is to imagine a video game. When you play the game, there are only so many places you can explore; you are limited by what the designers have built into the game. A lucid dream is a bit like playing a video game with unlimited possibility. Anyway, I began wondering the campus in that way, and for a while I remained asleep, aware of the fact that I was dreaming, and exploring the world as though it had no boundaries, rules of limitations.
That dream has had a profound impact on me as I’ve grown up, felt bliss and sadness, read about Buddhism and Existentialism and other philosophies, and wondered, like most, what it all means. The truth is that the meaning of that lucid dream is so powerful, so beyond the realm of comprehension, that when I think about its meaningful I feel alone, as though I were glimpsing a reality that changes me from a human into an alien. It’s not that it’s a bad feeling; rather, it’s a feeling so divested from ordinary experience that there are no boxes to place it in, no categories to describe it.
The Power of Lucid Dreams
Oftentimes the feeling that life is a lucid dream strikes me very powerfully, in a way that leaves me blissful and in agony all at once. This feeling comes to me especially when I ponder mortality, because the fact that we all die strikes me as the greatest evidence that we are really, truly free. As Victor Frankl, the famous Jewish psychotherapist and holocaust survivor, write in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ even when we can’t control our external environment we are always, right up to our death, in control of our internal responses to the world. Thus we are free to roam the world, in some cases physically, in others mentally, and still others both, in much the same way that we can break boundaries in lucid dreams and explore new worlds in books, movies, and video games. The fact of being alive is infinitely more complex, mysterious and surprising than the most cleverly designed video game, yet we often forget that and lapse into mediocrity.
The implications of living life as if it were a lucid dreams are many. In some ways, It strikes me that what I am describing is the Buddhist concept of enlightenment: realizing that life is illusion, and then being free to experience all of life, delighting in the ups and downs, yet being fundamentally detached from it. And while this may sound theoretical or impossible to experience in real life, I must say that even in my deepest depression I am able to remember that it’s not real, that as the Queen song says “nothing really matters,” and though that does not take away the pain, it changes the quality of the pain.
Is it Possible to Convey Such Subtle Thoughts?
Perhaps I’m doing a terrible job of explaining things that are terribly subtle, personal and vague. Or perhaps because of the particular language I am choosing my readers won’t be able to relate to these words. However, if someone is able to read this and understand it, then perhaps I’ll feel less like an alien. Because the fact of the matter is that I read voraciously because I am always looking for signs that other people have thought and felt this way. Life is indeed a strange and marvelous thing, especially when viewed through the lens of a lucid dream.