Where do words and memories in dreams come from?

August 10, 2011

One dream last night involved an interaction with my father that made me wonder again how the dream state works. We were walking through a park, with other people walking around us, and we were talking about a comedian's sketch about Harry Caray broadcasting the first baseball game. If you like baseball and know your biblical references, it's a very funny sketch.

I told my dad in the dream that I couldn't remember any of the lines from the sketch, but I thought it was funny. I assumed he hadn't seen it, but then he proceeded to rattle off several lines from the sketch, doing his own Harry Caray impersonation, and had me in stitches.

In the dream I began to wonder how he could remember the lines when I couldn't. With this, I woke up, rolled over, and wrote a few of his lines in my notebook, and then went back to sleep. This morning I checked the lines I wrote down, and they are all correct.

What's so unusual about all this, you ask?

  1. In the dream, "I" could not remember any of these lines.
  2. Back here in the physical world, I still can't remember any of the lines. My memory doesn't work that way. The way my memory works, I remember feelings, not details. (This is nothing new, my memory has worked like this since I was in high school. I can often remember numbers, but rarely remember words.)
  3. My dad passed away at least twelve years before this comedy sketch was ever performed.

I hope you can see the problem here. In the physical world, I can't recall any lines from the sketch, but somehow in the dream state, my father can remember the lines, word for word, but he wasn't alive in the physical world to ever hear them.

So, where did those lines in the dream come from?

Threads in dreams

One other point I'd like to make here is that I couldn't "control" my father in the dream. At the end of the dream I was awake enough to know most of what I just wrote here, and as the dream was going on, I thought my father must somehow be me, a creation of my brain or mind. So I attempted to do anything I could to "control" him, but I couldn't.

In computer programming, we refer to this as "threads". You start a thread working, it goes off and does something, and the main thread goes on to work on something else. When the thread you spawned off is finished doing whatever it was doing, it might report back to you, it might just silently die after doing its work, or you might end up having to kill it.

In my dream I could count at least three threads. One was myself, a second was my dad, and a third was all the people milling around in the park. There may have been more than three threads, but there were at least these three. As far as I know, I had my own thoughts, my dad's responses were his own, and the people in the background just did whatever they were doing, I had no conscious control over them either.

I don't have a strong conclusion to add here, just that observation that my dad's thoughts and actions were his own, and he had better memories of the comedy sketch than I did.


I've run out of writing time this morning, but a few quick possibilities of what happened:

  1. I can somehow access the detailed memories of this sketch in my brain in the dream state.
  2. I can somehow access the detailed memories of this sketch in my "mind" in the dream state.
  3. There's something else going on.

I'll leave it at that for now.

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