Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Consecutive dreams and parallel lives in H.G. Wells

"Isn't there something called consecutive dreaming, that goes on night after night?"
    This is one of the most interesting questions that can be asked about dreams. Here it is posed in the voice of a character of H.G.Wells, in his remarkable short story "A Dream of Armageddon," first published in 1901.
   The story starts on a train with a sick-looking "man with a white face" striking up a conversation with the narrator because he is reading a book about dreams. The white-faced man has no patience with dream analysis because - as he says - his dreams are killing him.
   He describes how he has been dreaming a life in a future century, in which he is a great man - the leader of a great party - who gives up his power to live his consuming love with a younger woman on the island of Capri, which is now one gigantic resort hotel. The descriptions of Capri are wonderfully beautiful and vivid, the slope of Monte Solaro, the natural arch in the rock called Faraglione that the sea washes through. The dreamer has never been to Capri, in his present life, but the narrator has, and can confirm many of   the details. In this way, we are led to believe the reality of the extraordinary story that is unfolding.
    In his current life, the dreamer is a solicitor in Liverpool. He wonders, as he works on the details of a building lease, what his clients and colleagues would make of his second life, which often seems more vivid and real to him than the life he is living now. He remembers awakening to that second life when he felt the warmth in the air because a lovely woman had stopped fanning him. He admired her as she leaned over their balcony.  "Her white shoulders were in the sun, and all the grace of her body was in the cool blue shadow."
    Each time he wakes in this future Capri, he forgets his life in England at the end of the nineteenth century. The idyll of love and beauty is fast falling apart, however. After dancing in the pleasure palace, he is approached by a grim envoy from his own Northern country who beseeches him to go back and take charge before the brute who succeeded him brings about a world war. To do this would involve leaving the woman he loves, and he chooses his heart over his duty to the multitude.
   For three weeks, night after night, the solicitor is thrown into scenes in which his future self is present at the collapse of an island paradise and of a future world. War is threatened, and Wells describes squadrons of fighter planes wheeling over the Bay of Naples. World war breaks out, and the future life ends in global disaster and personal tragedy; the dreamer sees his lover shot through the heart and experiences his own death. 
   As he tells this story, he seems at the end of his tether.
   "It could have been only a dream," Wells' alter ego tries to comfort him.    
    "A dream!" he cried, flaming upon me, "a dream--when, even now--"
      For the first time he became animated..."One thing is real and certain, one thing is no dream- stuff, but eternal and enduring. It is the center of my life, and all other things about it are subordinate or altogether vain. I loved her, that woman of a dream. And she and I are dead together!

The story ends when the train stops at Euston station. No moral, no reflection, no analysis. Just so.
     I find this one of the very best of H.G.Wells' stories. The framing device is familiar from other "scientific romances" he wrote, including The Time Machine. Events and scenes that many readers might consider fantastic are told by a traveler who claims to have visited other times or other worlds. Wells again demonstrates his ability to envision the shape of things to come. He describes "flying boats" and warplanes shaped like spearheads without the shafts, years before Kitty Hawk, and almost a century before Stealth aircraft. He has his characters travel comfortably around a building complex on a "passage with a moving floor", a preview of our moving walkways.
    Yet the prophetic elements in the tale are burdened by pessimism and fatalism. In his tremendously active life as novelist, journalist, educator and social reformer, Wells worked tirelessly to promote a "happy turning" for human evolution. He sometimes said that he published dark visions of the possible future in order to goad humans to prevent them from playing out, and escape the future Earth described towards the end of The Time Machine, where monstrous crab-like giants have inherited the planet from a human species that split in two and lost any semblance of humanity. Yet he was sometimes unable to roll back a black tide of despair; we see that coming in, unstoppable, in his very last work, Mind At the End of Its Tether.


Back to the question of "consecutive dreams". A dream sequence of this kind may awaken us to the fact that we are living more than one life, in the multiverse.
      For Wells' white-faced solicitor, this means serial dreams that carry him forward, night by night, in the events of a life being lived in another time and place. Time seems to run differently in Liverpool and the future Capri. For four nights, he does not remember dreaming of Capri, but when he returns it seems that months have elapsed since he was last there. In a few hours of sleep in his regular body, it seems that he can live days, possibly weeks, in his second body. Otherwise, time in the dream Capri moves as it does in Liverpool, linear and unidirectional. It's worth noting that in Capri, Wells' character does not remember his life in Liverpool, though in England, he can think of little else.

     
In my own dream life, as in the dream lives that others share with me, we may not only have "consecutive" or serial dreams, but may enjoy much more room for maneuver. In "consecutive" dreams, we may have the experience of returning, again and again, to a life being lived somewhere else. We may find, like Wells' dream traveler, that events in that second life have moved along since our previous dream visit. The second life may be remote from the present one, for example, in a past or future historical period, or in a different world altogether.
     Or the second life may be quite similar to the current one. It may be a life, for example, in which events are playing out as if we had made a different choice and are now living with a different partner, or living in a different country, or doing different work. Such dreams can give us first-hand, experiential knowledge of how we may be living parallel lives in parallel universes, which leading physicists say is likely bit can't demonstrate as lived experience. While you are doing what you are doing today, a second self is still living with the partner you left, in the old place, and doing - for good or bad - what you might be doing under those circumstances.
     We are all time travelers and interdimensional voyagers in our dreams. We travel to past and future, as well as to parallel worlds, and it is likely that we do this on any night of the week, even if we fail to remember our dream travels. It may be that, while our body here is asleep, a second - or a fortieth - self in another time or another world wakes up, with memories of our present existence, fast fading, when he remembers his dreams.
    Wells' white-faced dream traveler is the captive of an evil future he believes is dead and done and cannot be changed. But conscious dreamers know that the multiverse is more flexible. Any future we can perceive, for starters, is a possible future; the odds on the manifestation of any event can be changed.
    When we wake up to the fact that the only time is Now, we may discover that the events of "past" lives are also far from dead and done. In the mind and body of a personality in another time, we may be able to do some good, suggest some other moves, sow some new ideas - and also return with gifts of knowledge and energy from that other self. I suspect that one of the keys to success in this fascinating arena is for us to retain the memory of both lives (and perhaps a perspective above and beyond both of them) as we step in and out of different worlds.
    I've had some consecutive dreams of being in dark and dangerous places, in parallel realities and in other times, but typically I don't find myself bound to a set course of events in these situations, and usually I retain some memory of who I am in my 21st century world. Nor do I feel oppressed after these adventures, though sometimes I return with the  sense that my presence is still needed, urgently, in a drama unfolding in another world. So I have chosen to go back, of my free will but also with some sense of obligation, to try to fight the good fight or correct things.
    As Active Dreamers, we learn to interact consciously with our counterparts in other times, retaining memory of our current lives and the awareness that Now is always the point of power. That changes everything.
   

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