Finding the Truth Within the Dream

by Bernardo Kastrup, Ph.D.

Finding-the-Dream-ImageIMAGINE THAT YOU ARE LYING on your couch one lazy Sunday afternoon, relaxed and unworried. Your life isn’t perfect, but everything seems to be going fine lately. There are no oppressive thoughts in your mind demanding your attention. You surrender fully to the moment and find yourself closing your eyes, even though you aren’t tired.

Slowly, you begin to drift into a strange world of fleeting hypnagogic images. Even one wrong thought could cause the whole thing to collapse, but you deliberately and carefully allow yourself to slide further in. A subtle, delicate transition in awareness gradually takes place. You realize in amazement that you are now dreaming, even though you still retain awareness of the couch you’re lying on. The phenomenon is as interesting as it is surreal: the old reality seems to have been replaced with a parallel timeline in a parallel realm. Despite your bewilderment, the dream continues to pull you deeper in, like the entrancing, irresistible song of a mermaid. You fight to remain lucid but it’s no use. Soon, you completely forget about the couch, the Sunday afternoon and even who you are. You’re now fully entranced; fully in the dream. Connections with your real life are severed.

Except that a nagging feeling remains in the back of your mind: deep within, in a way that isn’t self-reflective, there is that intuition that you aren’t really from this land where you now find yourself; that you aren’t really this character you seem to be playing in this story. You can’t pin it down; you can’t define or articulate what it means. It’s just a hazy, diffuse and slippery feeling. And since you quickly conclude that there’s nothing you can do about it, you decide to simply go on with your life.

But what’s your life about again? You look around and find yourself sitting at the shore of a beautiful lake. Tall mountains surround it. A warm summer breeze caresses your skin. Someone is sitting next to you, to your left, but you can’t really remember who she is. You just know that the situation is perfectly ordinary. Whoever she is, she belongs right there with you. As she stares out to the lake, apparently lost in thoughts, she asks:

— What do you think will happen when you die?

Strangely, her question doesn’t surprise you. What does is that the answer seems to flow autonomously out of you, as if someone else were speaking through your mouth:

— I know that I have a soul and that, after I die, my soul will simply return to where it came from, which is another world.

— But where is this otherworld you speak of? Where is your soul right now? Why can’t I see or touch it?

You know intuitively that your friend is asking the wrong questions.

— You think of my soul as a kind of ghost that inhabits my body and, after I die, floats out in space like a gas cloud. This isn’t how it works.

— How come not? If your soul exists it must be somewhere.

And this otherworld you speak of, where your soul is supposed to go after you die, must also be somewhere. Where is it? Is it behind those mountains? Is it up in the sky?

— No, it’s in none of those places. It’s nowhere. And you will never be able to see, touch or measure my soul. Can’t you see that you are thinking about it in the wrong way?

— How so? You’re beginning to sound very flaky with all this woo. It’s very simple: if we can’t find or measure the soul anywhere, it isn’t there; it doesn’t exist. If we can’t find this otherworld of yours anywhere, it doesn’t exist. It’s just as simple.

Beginning to lose your patience, you take a deep breath and manage to carry on:

— You are assuming that my soul is inside this body. But it is this body and this place that are inside my soul. So you could never find my soul anywhere here. It’s the wrong place to look.

— Are you saying that the lake, the valley and all those enormous mountains around us right now are all inside your soul?!

Before you can reply, she giggles sarcastically and continues:

— You must have a mighty big soul then!

— You don’t understand. Our notions of space and time are entirely relative to this realm.

They only exist within it. It makes no sense to speak of the size or age of my soul, because my soul is not inside space or time.

— You make no sense to me. If you say that your soul goes to another world after you die, that requires movement in space and time . . .

You know in your heart that you will never be able to explain in words what you mean. The very structure of language presupposes the notions of space and time intrinsic to this realm. Nouns presuppose the existence of things within this realm. How to explain the soul if it isn’t a thing? How to explain the otherworld if it isn’t in space and time? ‘I can’t make sense of this even to myself,’ you admit. Indeed, everything you said came from intuition, not from a linear or logical grasp of what it all entails. You realize that even you don’t really understand what you’ve been talking about. The irony is rather cruel.

Almost imperceptibly, you sigh and stare out to the lake in resignation. The breeze causes the water to ripple gently, forming intricate and rather beautiful interference patterns. To the right, where a stream drains into the lake, eddies form and dissolve in a beautifully choreographed dance. For a moment you drift away…

Then you hear your friend say abruptly, in a firm but benevolent voice:

— Here, let me help you understand what you’ve been trying to say.

As you turn to face her, you freeze: she is holding a gun pointed straight at your face. Before you can even ask yourself what’s happening, she smiles . . . and fires. Time slows to a crawl as you watch the bullet emerge from the barrel, travel through the air and finally hit you right between the eyes. Your entire body shudders and propels itself upward . . .

. . . But you land safely on your couch. Startled, you sit up and look around. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and there’s nothing to worry about. While you’re still halfway between the dream and real life, it dawns upon you with crystalline clarity: ‘Of course! This is what I meant to explain to her! Her trying to find my soul and the otherworld in her frame of reality was like looking for my real body and this living room inside my dream . . .’


Bernardo Kastrup (Photo)Bernardo Kastrup has a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering with specializations in artificial intelligence and reconfigurable computing. He has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the “Casimir Effect” of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). Bernardo has lived and worked in four different countries across continents, currently residing in the Netherlands. www.


From Brief Peeks, by Bernardo Kastrup. Copyright © Bernardo Kastrup 2011-2015. Published by iff Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Hands, United Kingdom.