Monday, January 5, 2009

Dreaming parallel worlds

I’ve long been fascinated by dream experiences of parallel lives. These can take many forms. We find ourselves in the situation of a person living in a different time. We seem to be enjoying - or not enjoying - a continuous life in another reality. We slip into the perspective and apparently the bodies of other people (including even members of other species) who may be living in our present world, but are not ourselves.

The parallel life experiences that intrigue me most are those in which we seem to find ourselves traveling - in an alternate reality - along paths we abandoned in this lifetime, because of choices we made. Contemporary science speculates about the existence of (possibly infinite) parallel universes. In our dreams, we have the ability to gain experiential knowledge of this fascinating field.

In my own dreams, I quite frequently find myself living in a city or a country where I used to live, doing the things I might well be doing had I stayed in a former line of work and a certain life situation. In these dreams, I am my current age, but my life has followed a different track from the one I have taken in my waking reality. Sometimes it seems I have joined a parallel self who has been following a path I abandoned – through my life choices – twenty or even thirty years ago. There is a “just-so” feeling about these dreams. I return from them thinking, “Well, that’s how things might be if I had made a different choice.” Sometimes I’m quite relieved that I made the choices I did; sometimes I feel a little tristesse for something or someone left on the “ghost trail” I’ve seen in my dream ; but most often my feelings are entirely non-judgmental.

This theme is nicely explored in a novel titled The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver. Through alternating chapters, we follow alternate event tracks in the life of the heroine, depending on whether she did or did not kiss a man other than her partner on the night of his birthday. That night, her world split. We follow her double life, through those alternating chapters, and the dual narrative is beautifully wrought. At the end of the twin tellings, it's hard to make a value judgment between the alternate life paths. You can't really say that one is better or worse than the other; they are simply different.

Through a chance encounter that was the product of a missed airline connection, I once met a woman who told me she was living a double life of this kind every night (or every day, depending on your perspective). Every night, she went home to her husband at their comfortable house on an island off the North Carolina coast. They might go to their favorite restaurant, or to the mall or the country club. In the morning, they went off on their separate ways to work. The shocker was this. The man she went to every night in her dreams was a different husband, in a different house in a different island. "Whenever I close my eyes," as she told it, "I'm in a different world. It's the same as this world, but everything is different."

Under the Many-Worlds hypothesis now widely entertained by physicists, it’s possible that every choice we make results in the creation of two or more new universes. In Parallel Universes theoretical physicist Michio Kaku suggests that another universe may be floating just a millimeter away on a "brane" (membrane) parallel to our own. He explains that we can't see inside it because it exists in hyperspace, beyond the four dimensions of our everyday reality. But in fact, we can and do go there - in dreaming and in the imagination.

Second only to draming, imaginative fiction is our best mentor on these matters. In Borges' 1941 novella "The Garden of Forking Paths" a sinologist discovers a manuscript by a Chinese writer where the same tale is recounted in several ways, often contradictory. Time is conceived here as a "garden of forking paths", where things happen in parallel in infinitely branching ways. Borges conveys how all possible outcomes of a given event may take place simultaneously, each one opening a new array of possibilities.

It's fascinating to speculate on what may happen if parallel selves, and their parallel worlds, bump up against each other. Could we combine the gifts of different life experiences, or would we compete with each other? One approach to this theme is a creaky old Roger Moore movie titled "The Man Who Haunted Himself", hilarious to watch now because of its silly, jingly circa-1970 musical score. An arrogant, power-mad, womanizing s.o.b. finds enlightenment, and becomes softer and kinder to the point where his family, his office and his girlfriend can't figure him out. When his other self - the s.o.b. in the Savile Row pinstripes - turns up, everyone accepts him as the true Roger Moore character, and Mr. Softer and Kinder is shut out of his home and his office.

All the questions raised here apply to our collective world as well as our personal one. Just beside us, perhaps, is a parallel world - or a thousand of them - in which there is no war in Iraq, or no 9/11. And parallel worlds where there is still a Soviet Union or where (as in the Phlip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle) the Axis won World War II and a Japanese commandant rules California. In another parallel world, we have evolved to the level of a Type III Kardashev civilization, with colonies established all over our home galaxy and the technology to tap the energy of a billion stars.

Before Earth's ecosphere ceases to support life, Michio Kaku conjectures, we may have learned how to transport ourselves to a parallel world in the multiverse. Or maybe (as some scientists believe th Big Bang came about) everything will end and begin again through the collision of parallel "branes".

Forking paths, dividing - and sometimes converging. To know more, let's go dream on it.



The synchronicitys of this blog are truly amazing. You have just written exactly what I needed to hear. Often in my dreams I feel that yes I am living in a parallel dimension but also that I am a player in other peoples dreams . I often wake thinking what was that all about there was nothing in the remembered sequence that has anything to do with me except for the interactions with the people I have been hanging out with.

Nancy said...

You're making me think about choices, present ones as well as past. I dream of still being with the college boyfriend decades later & it is bittersweet, as you say. What that's good from this can I bring into my present relationship? I also dream of being more outgoing (good) or letting my anger show in an inappropriate rude way (not good). Dreams show me not only an outcome from choices I made in the past, but also from choices I could be making now, & guide my actions accordingly.

kathyf said...

Robert, it has been some time since I attended your workshops but dreams lead me to check out your web page from time to time when new things are happening.
I have signed up for the on line dreamwork and look forward to sweeping out the cobwebs.
See you in the ether.
Kathy f

Robert Moss said...

Kathy: Good to be moving beyond the cobwebs to the grand web of dreaming! I'll look forward to dreaming with you online in the new Dreamwork course at, and to welcoming you back into our dreaming family in one of the workshops soon!

Robert Moss said...

Nancy: You ask challenging questions, the very best kind. Maybe it would be an interesting exercise for you to see whether you can observe what that other Nancy - the one who never broke up with that boyfriend - is like, in her parallel world. You may discover that, looking at the situation all-in-all, there is no longer any cause for regret. You may also find that you and that other Nancy on her own parallel track have some gifts to share with each other.

Robert Moss said...

Steve: LIving by synchronicity, as you know, is the dreamer's way of operating in waking life. It;s a seamless web, really. When we go dreaming we travel beyond the walls and the veils of consensual reality. Through coincidence, the powers of the deeper world come probing or prodding through the curtain to bring us awake.
I suppose if we are going to talk to the scientists who are elaborating the M (for Membrane) Theory of multiple worlds, we've going to need to use the word "brane" as well as "veil".
I've had your sense of being a player in other people's dreams. Something more we'll explore.

Nancy said...

Thanks for the nudge to spend more time with the dreams of my college boyfriend. Of course I am already being pulled to work on the fresh dreams of last night, with someone waving a cigarette lighter around, setting someone's hair on fire, & no one noticing but me, or running into the son of someone I dated years ago now asking for my help.
Has anyone else pointed out that "brane" could be "brain", cosmic intelligence, maybe?

Unknown said...

Fascinating contemplations, any which way you turn it. And the image at the beginning of the post is so fitting.

I've been pondering this as related to frequent dreams my husband tells me. He often dreams of us when we were much younger going on dates, driving in the cars he owned then, etc. Several of his dreams started out with him with his 1st wife in those settings just as they were, but mid-way, she becomes ME. In one, he left her in his parents basement to get her a pair of socks and when he returned, found me waiting on the couch! He was so thrilled and excited, he took me back upstairs to officially meet his parents.
Sometimes I wonder if he's dreaming a parallel potential reality of ours. As he recounts such dreams, I often have a delightful sense of deja vu.

Nancy said...

I've also had dreams in which past partners morphed into my current guy, & I saw this as my subconscious knitting the disparate strands of my life together. If I end up with my current guy I am pleased. If I am stuck in the past in a dream with an ex I take it as a sign that I have to look at something; what was good about that relationship that I need to bring forward to the present?
So if your husband's dreams were mine I'd see it as very positive, that I've made the transition from my past to my present, & am quite happy with Robin as my wife now. Of course I would also notice the sole/soul theme of the socks: did my ex-wife need me to be her soul?

Unknown said...

Thanks, Nancy. No shortage of parallel spouse realities here! I appreciate your insight on these dream experiences. I think the socks belong on my soul. ;-)

Unknown said...

"socks belong on my soul" too funny!

I've had dreams of a parallel life, whose path was cut off from me as a very young woman and I always wondered if I was losing my mind or if it was unhealthy to go there. I have been haunted by that parallel life for a long time.

So, Robert thanks once again! You are really hitting a collective need here in the worlds of circling dreamers visiting your blog. And thanks so much for the blog! I think everyone here finds this to be a blessing in many forms.

By the way, I forgot to compliment you on the drawing of the Raven on your blog. It's very nice.

Grace said...

Synchronicity abounds! I have been very busy with a family illness and work, etc., and have not taken the time to play with and write my dreams lately. I awoke this morning with a clear remembrance of another place and felt very happy. It all faded so fast.
The lesson for me is that if I journal, even a few lines, the dreams are easier to catch.
Thank you for the easily accessible online inspiration!

Anonymous said...

I have dreamed and written of that "brane" in my book. It showed up in a dream I've called the Cube Dream. You can read the dream at the very end of the sample chapter available here.

These stories of parallel lives remind me of a couple of other books: Richard Bach's One, and Machaelle Small Wright's Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have found your post on parallel worlds, and to hear that you also read Michio Kaku's work. I just want to speak on something I think about often, which is the Deja Vu we experience from time to time. That type of experience also leads me to take credence in the theory that there is not really a past or a present; that time is stagnant, which makes parallel worlds very possible. I know little about physics, and I'm not very technical, but it seems to me that the general idea is that time is not really a dimension, and it seems so evident when you have that experience you know you've had before in exactly the same way. So, maybe we are sometimes on the very edge of the "brane" of another universe (running concurrently) that is not actually the past, but merely a different place in time. I guess I'll spare you my thoughts on it being only our consciousness that allows us to experience time as we know it, but I would greatly enjoy hearing more of your thoughts. I certainly hope this hasn't been too sophomoric sounding, and maybe just a little interesting. Laurette