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Backwards Causation

Dreamed 2008/3/3 by Selena (formerly Jo)

I am walking through Railway Bridge Wood when I run into my friend Flick, walking in the other direction with two secret agents. It is obvious they are agents because of the black suits. The three of them are talking pleasantly enough, and invite me to join them. Now that I think of it, there's nothing unusual about secret agents. This is, after all, a totalitarian state. But I am a fugitive. I also notice that I am suddenly female.

This is all quite troubling. But politeness dictates that we treat our guests with respect.

Flick and I live together in an attic apartment in a nice old house. I show the secret agents my beds. I have two of them, and both are tattered old things. In a totalitarian state, the government supplies everything and deals with everything, so I hope the agents will inform someone about my beds so I'll receive a decent one.

For now, I have made some nice vegetable soup. I give them a bowl each, and we go up to Flick's room. It's bigger than mine, and she has old video games that we sit and play. When I fall asleep on her beanbag, the secret agents are still playing and making small talk. You meet the nicest people in totalitarian states.

I dream that I am on a bus, heading out to do my national service. It's unfortunate that I turned eighteen just as the government reinstated it. My old friend Chris is coming with me. We talk a bit about school and the future. I confide in him that I sometimes feel very girly, for a man, and that I'm very scared of doing a year of military service. It will be a big challenge.

The two agents are sitting behind me, and overhear the conversation. They tell me "If you're worried, you should resign and do non-combat national service."

I assure them "I want to take up the challenge."

One of them says "That's fine, but if you should change your mind, you should resign right away and do something else instead."

Our bus pulls up outside of my old college. I notice this, Chris doesn't. I tell him "The signing-in area is in the old Humanities room," and lead the way. But then it strikes me that I never went to the old humanities room. Things are odd. After all, Chris and I just graduated from this place. Why are we back?

I go into the foyer. A large computer, like something out of Star Trek, has been set up to sort the new recruits. But the pressure of imagining it and my growing doubts send me lucid. I am aware of constructing the scene in my mind, and that makes the image disappear. The dream was going so well, too. If I could stay lucid and keep the dream going I might have flown around a bit. But the dream is shaky and I might well destroy it. I am reminded of two weeks ago when I was particularly stressed and had heart palpitations. I decide to try and remember I'm dreaming, but focus on breathing and concentrate on one thing at a time as the dream unfolds around me. Slowly, things start to solidify again.

I dream that I am in my bedroom in the house I share with Flick. A mutual friend comes in. We call him Handbag because he's large and sometimes clumsy. I don't open my eyes but I can hear him clomping around.

"Jo, can I borrow a book?" he asks.

"I'm asleep, Handbag."

"I'll just get it then, shall I?" clomp clomp clomp.

"I'm dreaming. Leave. Now." I tell him, very firmly.

I fall back to sleep, and dream that I'm in bed, going to sleep. But I still don't get to: I'm in the military again, and my room-mate is starting to have a seizure. It started while he was dreaming. He started to sleep talk, then there were convulsions. I'm worried and I call for help.

By the next night, he'd been disappeared.

This worries me a lot. But I stay in the army. However, I do a half-arsed job. Whenever my friend Ceili visits I drop all my responsibilities and we go off to walk and explore the area.

One night, a few months later, I have a very vivid dream. I sleep-talk. In the morning, I discuss it with people. The two agents tell me "Your problem was that you had omega-3 fish oil before bed."

But then next night, I have a seizure. My new room-mate, who I know even less well than the last one, has to stay up all night to make sure I'm okay. We formulate a theory that the military are experimenting on us, putting something in our food that does something to our dreams, perhaps.

The agents tell me "If the seizure happens again, tomorrow night you will be taken away." This worries me. I dare not sleep, so I sit in a corner of the room and keep my gun close to hand.

Ceili comes to visit me, and suggests a walk. I have to say that hopping over garden fences and exploring sound more fun than sitting in my room awaiting death. The only problem is that if I slip out I'll be officially off-duty, so I won't be able to take my rifle. I go without it.

We're out for quite a while. When I come back, I find that the military officers stormed my room! There was a riot and everyone was shot. The only reason I survived was that I took that walk.

Now I'm terrified. I leave everything behind and run away.

My convulsions never stop; the experiment is neither completed nor aborted. But I do find a nice attic apartment. I move in with Flick and live as a fugitive there.

Until one day I have a dream.

The next day, I wake up and apologise to Handbag for shouting at him last night. I explain patiently that I have trouble sleeping and need every hour of uninterrupted rest I can get. I impress upon him that if he ever sees that I am asleep he really shouldn't wake me. But, it's probably wasted breath. The agents have caught up with me again. I need to leave this country.

I go to the airport. Chris joins me for the plane journey, but seating arrangements are difficult. Either we sit with one of his friends and I'm kept out of the conversation, or we sit with this Marxist lady I know and he'll be kept out of the conversation. After some discussion, we decide to sit with the Marxist. Our decision may not have been completely wise. When we turn around we see the two agents again.

I think "Something very strange is going on..."


I spent the day before in the library studying to write an essay on Gandahar, a French surrealist animation. I'm studying it using the same methods I apply to my dreams (except film criticism requires more background reading). My approach is based on the idea that dreams always offer an insight into our life if we look for it and expect results. If we assume a purpose, we can study what symbols the brain chooses and why it finds these particular ones important. So I took having a dream with an imbedded dream to be interesting, and worthy of study.



Whew! I'm stumped. Except this dream's sheer convoluted deviousness does suggest that you are indeed a philosopher. But your brain won't just contemplate paradoxes, loops and multilayered arguments--it forces you to live them. Makes me dizzy. Wait, I'm an artist. Need pictures! Let me map it out..

Chart of dream 'Backward Causation', showing its alternating or possibly cycling levels.
Wow! Are you sure you can't switch to physics? This looks suspiciously like the eleven-dimensional universe proposed by string theory--the extra dimensions being small and curled-up just like this.

Some of your characters live only in the upper level of your dream; others, only in the dream-within-a-dream; but a few seem to swim free...

Hm. Aside from the dreamer, three other people roam between levels (Chris and the two agents); Flick and Handbag are only in the upper-level dream; Ceili appears only in the lower. Fewer natives the deeper you go, like the oceans! Also, all the roamers are male; Ceili and Flick are each rooted in a specific world.

But as I look at that list, the most intriguing characters are those ubiquitous agents. Within the constraints of their job, they seem strangely friendly--warn you what's up, suggest possible causes for things... I wonder if they're rather alienated from their bosses. And if the Totalitarian Powers That Be are your formidable, philosophy-loving intellect (as the phrase goes, "logic dictates"), maybe the agents are aspects of you that like simple things? Conversation. Games. Soup. Nutrition. Sleep. Beds. Concrete sorts, vs living in your head? Dunno.

Except for Handbag, all your friends help you too. Whether or not they understand your philosophical dilemmas, they DO help pull you out of them. Nor is it charity; just their natures. Taking a simple walk with Ceili saves your life!

So I read the dream as saying simply "Flick, Ceili and Chris help free you from this totalitarian state you fall into. Spend more time with them, follow their leads." Not a full answer (those twin agents are still a riddle; I expect they'll recur) but at least a path forward.

--Chris Wayan

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