I Had a Dream - But Does That Mean Anything?
This post is more spontaneous, as it is inspired by a dream I had recently. I will recount the dream, and I will talk afterwards about dreams in general.
In the dream, I was in school. I call myself “I” because the dream was from a first person perspective, but my name was never mentioned, nor were there any indicators (such as familiar places and people) that I was myself. For all I know, I could’ve been impersonating a completely random character.
A class had recently finished, and I spending the break sitting on a bench in the school corridor, awaiting the next class. As you can imagine, the corridor was filled with noise, people talking and laughing. At some point I noticed that a lot of noise was coming from a specific place. A lot of students were gathering around a teacher and something she had with her. It turns out that the something she had was a bottle of caesium. In case you don’t know, caesium-137 is a radioactive isotope that is created during radioactive decay of uranium. While it won’t kill you if you touch it, it’s generally not advised to do so (as with most radioactive elements), unless cancer sounds appealing. At one point, as the teacher was moving about, the bottle ended up being rather close to me, maybe within 40-60 centimetres. It made me uncomfortable, but she reassured me that there’s no danger, as the material of the bottle included lead (which is the go-to shielding material for most kinds of radiation).
Due to the interest of the students, the teacher started lecturing us on caesium, its properties and the like. It was essentially an improvised chemistry/physics lesson. She had some other, unspecified substances with her, which she tried mixing with the caesium to showcase various reactions. Because we weren’t in a proper classroom, however, to perform the experiments she needed help. The help came in the form of myself and another, female student. We helped her several times, holding things up, moving liquids from one container to another, et cetera. It was all quite sloppy, however, and so a lot of the caesium spilled out. It had the form of a liquid (meaning it was a solution, not pure caesium) and it was dark brown with green-ish hues, reminding me of Lugol’s Iodine. Some of it ended up on my hands and arms and even on one foot. I was worried, knowing what caesium is, but it didn’t seem like there was any kind of reaction happening. It felt no different than having a bit of water splashed on you, and looking over at the girl, she also had some of it on her body and was similarly unfazed by it. And so we continued, and eventually “the screen turned black”. Imagine it like a video fading out from one scene to another.
The next scene was not pleasant. I woke up in the same place I was sitting before. The hall was empty, except for my fellow female student, the one helping with the experiments. On top of being empty, the previously bright and clear interior now had an ominous feeling and in the distance I could see a reddish fog, like something you’d see in a video game. The ruckus of a school corridor was replaced with distant cries and screams, coming from nobody specific, yet from everywhere at once, as if the whole world found itself in the middle of an apocalypse. Looking over at the girl, she was leaning against the wall. I could not see her face, but I somehow knew that she was dead. At this point, I felt that I needed to find a bathroom, to try and get whatever caesium was left on my skin off.
On the way to the bathroom, my first person experience was interrupted by a video, presumably from the future. It portrayed the teacher, her skin covered in red and orange blotches and burns. Her mouth was also visible, her gums purple and disfigured, many of her teeth missing and many more in horrible shape, yellow and black. The video seemed to be an interview with her about what had happened at the school. The video ended and I was now in a bathroom, lit only by the lights from the hallway. I found soap by the sink and began desperately trying to clean off my hands and arms. As I did, I could see red discolourations and burns appearing on my palms. If someone looked at me then, I would appear alert and focused, whereas I was actually on the verge of breaking down from fear and crying. Then, another video began, as if a continuation of the previous one. There was no specific person shown, but someone was talking, and they said (paraphrasing) “Our condolences go to the families of the two girls involved in the accident”. One girl I had already seen, leaned against the wall in the hallway. The other one was me. I was going to die.
That was when I woke up.
...How was that? For a dream, something caused by the brain reorganizing the information it’s gathered during the day, it was surprisingly coherent and chronologically laid out. It wasn’t very pleasant, either. As far as nightmares go, ones involving apocalypse and/or death are the most common for me, usually involving some sort of radiation, often in the form of a nuclear weapon.
With dreams like that, one would expect me to have trouble sleeping. But in fact, I don’t. Because I don’t treat dreams as anything more significant than, say, a novel, waking up from a vision of death and pain, I can think “Man, that was [a] scary [story]!”, and go on about my day as if nothing happened. If anything, they make me excited, the same way an entertaining movie would. They stimulate my creativity, making me want to draw and write.
For many other people, however, that’s very much not the case. If they have a dream in which their partner is cheating on them, it might make them suspicious in real life. A vision of their younger self may be seen as an indication of a child being brought into their life. A “visit” from a dead relative may be them trying to communicate from beyond the grave. In many cases, it’s an expression of their thoughts. A dream with a cheating partner may reveal fear or insecurity about their position in a relationship. A vision of a child may be indicative of a desire for a child. If a grandparent whom you looked up to and often heeded advice from dies, it doesn’t seem too weird for you to dream of them giving you advice. Perhaps there is some supernatural aspect to it, I can’t really say, but I wonder how many of these are self-fulfilling prophecies. Seeing a child and interpreting it as you becoming a parent might make you less likely to practice safe sex, since you’re going to have a kid anyway, sooner or later, which then may lead to pregnancy. If a dream of a cheating partner makes you suspicious of them, it could worsen your relationship, over time leading to a break-up.
These things are fairly obvious, however. A cheating partner is a cheating partner. Some people go beyond those, however, and seek meaning in symbolism. For example, some people claim that seeing spiders in a dream is a symbol of an oppressive authority in your life. The colour white signifies fear and weakness, while dreaming of marriage is a sign of personal growth and the desire for a close and stable relationship. Frankly, many of these that you find online sound like cold reading. They’re often written vaguely or use very generic wording. One side claims that flying in an airplane signifies “that we’re in an important time of change. This could mean we are heading towards a new start, where destiny often imposes itself on us without us necessarily having control over the destination. This evokes a period of important decisions but proves necessary in order for us to advance.” - Is it just me, or would that paragraph fit just right in a horoscope? Besides, they’re often read by people who are inclined to believe them, inviting confirmation bias. Most people don’t document every experience and thought of theirs, and so when you think back to a reading or a dream interpretation you’ve heard several weeks ago, it’s very easy to focus on whatever might’ve supported it, while forgetting about the things that go against it.
Personally, it’s hard for me to believe in premonition. While I’m not opposed to the idea of supernatural forces (be it gods, ghosts, mind reading, or anything else), I do not believe that they exist, as I haven’t seen much convincing evidence for them. Dream symbolism, just like horoscopes and tarot cards and clairvoyants, use a variety of tricks to make themselves believable by exploiting the way humans think. I encourage you to assess things critically next time you hear a premonition. Not to destroy your world view, but to practice scepticism of all things, which I believe to be right.