And I dreamt that, for totally mundane reasons, I needed to change my clothes and as I took off the black t-shirt I was wearing I noticed a flash of red folded-up in the black of the t-shirt cloth. And in the dream I remember thinking to myself “What’s that? Oh, of course, it must be the red snood I wear” (A snood is a kind of scarf, and I do indeed often wear one, which is red). So, still in the dream, I started to peel apart the red and black cloth, as you do with clothes you have taken off all in one go. And the red cloth, it turned out, was not my snood, but instead a red t-shirt which I was wearing underneath my black t-shirt and which, I could see – or maybe ‘know’ in the way that you just know some things in dreams – was some kind of socialist / trade union t-shirt from the mid 1980s.
So far, so boring. This seems even more ordinary and unremarkable than most people’s dreams which have extraordinary and remarkable content, yet still manage to bore in the daylight telling. But listen to this – this ordinary story of a boring dream has a message about the nature of the mind, because, you see, I don’t own any red t-shirts that I wear underneath a black t-shirt. .
There’s a theory that dreams result from random activations in our brain, which trigger ideas and images and which some story-telling aspect of our minds then tries to weave meaning around. Dreams reveal the mind trying to make sense of noise, this theory goes.
Now, notice what happened in my boring dream. I – the voice I experience as “I” – was trying to make sense and I came up with a story about the flash of red, that it was my snood. In fact, this is the most plausible story, certainly more plausible than the red t-shirt story. If my mind was a unity then the red snood story adopted by my internal voice would have been the same story adopted by the part of my mind generating the dream experience. But it wasn’t. The dream world delivered me a different story, that of the red t-shirt, and told that story to me, not in terms of a internal voice, but in terms of a direct experience.
Conclusions? That my mind has at least two substantive parts, both of which are capable of reasoning about the world, of making sense of it and telling stories, but which speak a different language and make different inferences from the same data.