Electric Dreams

Visual Sources for Dreams
(Excerpted from
"How To Fly")

Linda Lane Magallón

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2003 April). Visual Sources for Dreams. (Excerpted from "How To Fly")
Electric Dreams 10(4).

Physical Life

If dream imagery were just the memory of eyeball sight, we'd all be having dreams that were reruns of the day. Some people, sometimes, do indeed dream literal repeats. For most of us, most of the time, when the dream reflects daily life, it is a variation on what we recall of the original event.

How many times have you seen butterflies, bees and helicopters in the air? As an observer from afar, you can view the jets streaking by in an air show. Or you can watch birds circling overhead, and wonder. So will your dreams. I believe dreams of flying objects should be included in the study of flight. But I do realize that when most folks talk about flying dreams, they're not talking about observation. Rather, they're talking about a first-person perspective.

Nowadays, people actually do fly. They take engage in air jobs and air sports like sail planes and helium-filled balloons. Robert Monroe, who often floated in his out-of-body experiences, built model planes as a boy, learned to fly airplanes in high school and also became a glider pilot. Hang-gliding pilots at Kitty Hawk (the site of the Wright Brother's first airplane ride) told dreamworker Robert Van de Castle that they regularly dreamt of flying, but without the glider present. Airplane pilots on the Internet newsgroup alt. dreams talk about dream flying under power lines, trees, or high tension wires. I had a literal flying dream, myself.

Mountain Airport Landing, 9/27/83

I land the airplane short on the runway, then turn the motor off. Bailey (my instructor) jumps out, runs across to the gas pumps. He goes behind them to get a man, then comes over to me. He's in the next seat with the check list. Upside down it looks like an evaluation form. He needs my signature; I sign.

A woman is narrating this scene. She says, "I can see we have landed in Coalinga." The narrator says we could go left to Fresno, then circle around and come back. I can see the mountains to the left. Their tops are green, rather than snow-covered, but the narrator says, "It's cooler up here."

I take off flying again, banking to the right. To the left is fog; I can't see the valley floor. I continue to the right, circling.

This dream is pretty much how it happened. With my instructor, I flew our Piper Tomahawk over the town of Coalinga (but didn't land) and went on to the Sierra Nevada foothills (where I did). I was surprised when Bailey gassed up the plane, since a full tank could have taken us there and back. I also piloted the plane home. The narration is probably a replay of my thoughts that day.

You might consider flying as a pilot to be unusual, but how many more of us fly as passengers? The activities of hobbies and vocations will impact our dreams, but so do travel plans. When we can take trips on airplanes, we become aware of the sights, sounds and feelings of flight.

Virtual Life

A dreamwork colleague who is prone to symbolic interpretation once asked me, "If I had a dream of looking down a long hall at an open window, what kinds of concrete things might be said about it without lapsing back into metaphor?"

I replied, "That you live in a house with a long hall and open window (or did or may). That you already have or will visit such a literal place in waking life. Or that you watch too many old "Superman" reruns!" In the original TV series, a long hallway and open window were located at Clark Kent's work site, the "Daily Planet." As Superman, he often used that location for a launching pad to the outdoors.

Flying dreams have been classified as "bizarre" because they are considered not to be memories of literal life. Most flying dreams are not vehicular. And there's nobody flying around in physical reality sans airplane like Superman, right? Wrong. Physical reality includes MTV. We have legitimate "bizarre" memories of all the creative imagery of printed material and electronic art. We can also participate in activities that simulate flying, like amusement park and virtual reality rides.

When you seek the source of your flying dreams, don't forget the media! Video games, TV and movies can be evocative of flight, especially, the wide-screen IMAX types or the small screen wrap-around versions. They put us in the pilot's seat. There are plenty of scenes produced from a first-hand position, including all those sports where the camera is attached to the flyer or the flyer's vehicle. The passing scenery in a dream could be a bit of digital data drawn from memory files. My flying dream below was lifted from an audio-video source. Much of it plagiarized the first big-screen Superman movie.

Russian Rocket, 12/6/84

A Russian rocket aimed for New York goes off-course to California. The Russians don't want it to explode; it's errant. I fly to it, plan to change the digital program. I'm afraid it might explode if I take off the covering. I get a Russian scientist, tell him, "It's going to be windy" to prepare him. We teleport to the rocket in flight. He uses a screwdriver to open and change the program. The rocket flies out over the Pacific. I follow. I want to mark the place it falls in case it doesn't explode. I don't want it (a dud) in the ocean. I stay at a distance so there will be enough time to avoid the blast by teleporting away (I imagine a blast). Then I think it would be better if it goes into outer space. Can I change its course?

Past, Present and Future

Whether physical or virtual, dreams respond to images across the span of time. Here's some possibilities.
  1. Residue of the past - Your dream is a rerun of elements from the Peter Pan movie you saw on TV last night. Or your dream harkens back to that hot air balloon trip you took on your honeymoon in the Napa Valley. One dreamer whose husband was a pilot dreamt she saw him take off in a small jet airplane.
  2. Reflection of current experience - You fall asleep on a plane; subliminally you still feel the vibrations of the engine or are otherwise semi-aware of your surroundings. Weary Charles Lindbergh did this during his solo flight across the Atlantic. Instead of actually piloting the "Spirit of Saint Louis;" he dreamt that he was flying the plane.
  3. Anticipatory of what you will or might do - You fall asleep worrying about tripping on that loose stair in the basement, so you have a falling dream. Or the dream is a practice run for the Disneyland "Star Wars" ride you look forward to taking tomorrow, so you fly. While I was planning an airplane trip from California to the East Coast, I dreamt of flying over Lake Tahoe. I knew the airline used that route.
Ask yourself: What happened yesterday? What happens in my environment as I sleep? What's going to happen today or tomorrow? How do the images of physical and virtual reality impact my dreams?

Imaginal Life

There's another literal rendition of daily life...from a source that hardly any interpretation schema takes into account. But it definitely impacts our dreams. Some incubation methods depend on it.

Whenever we play "act as if" or "let's pretend" games in our heads and use pictures to boot, the dream can reflect those inner visual events. Many worry dreams are cases in which the dream reflects an imagination that worked overtime during the day. How many of us picture a story while we read it? Or picture a story when someone tells it? Or picture a person when we have no visual of them while we communicate in print, by e-mail or when using the phone? All of this can be visual source material for our dreams.

Let's say before you go to sleep, you watch a bird, you read a book and that provokes you to imagine yourself flying. The flying dream is probably residue, not of what you saw with your waking eyes, but of what you visualized with your imagination.

If we picture ourselves flying while awake, and that image transfers to dreams, it may seem bizarre to the outside observer of our dream report. But not to us! For instance, "Willie" and "Steve" are characters in a fantasy that I've been imagining, off and on, since I was 13 years old. I've repeatedly conjured up their images over a long span of time. Those imaginary pictures are available for dream production.

Flying With Willie And Steve, 8/17/84

As I drift into sleep, I imagine my recurring dream character Willie sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with me. I suggest to her that we go flying together. Imagery and sensation blurs and there is a sudden shift. All at once I am dreaming, and I know it.

Finally! Willie and I are flying, side by side, strong and free. My arms are outstretched in front of me. My scuba diving mask is on, to see better and to keep out the bugs. I can feel the wind rushing by, lashing wisps of hair against my forehead, whispering past my ears. I grin from sheer exhilaration. I'm flying! I'm flying! I turn my head to the left to look at Willie; she grins back.

Above there is only sky. Beneath us, brilliant white clouds float in the air like cream whipped into two different layers on a cake. The homespun weave of Terra Firma peeks through both, tempting me. "Oh, how beautiful!" I exclaim. Then I call out to Willie, "Let's go down!" We bank and dive toward the Earth, swooping, soaring, screaming down the wind. Beneath the clouds, the landscape is vague but looks like a city. Fine lines form complex networks as well as simpler circles and rectangles.

A Cessna joins us in the air. The male pilot is a friend of ours. Steve has come to take pictures of us and to accompany us to the end of our flight. We follow him, in a game of tag, banking and turning as he does. Now we are all flying side by side; Steve's to my right. I wonder that we can keep up with him. Using my psychic sense, I get the impression that we are traveling at 110 miles per hour.

Below, the countryside is now a jungle of greens and browns. The campanile of Stanford University pokes out of the trees like a beacon for our journey. This surprises me. I thought we were on our way to Willie's alma mater, U. C. Berkeley.

Willie gestures that we land. When we do, I look around in wonder. The scene reminds me of the ruins along the Appian Way in Rome.

The dream can also mirror perceptions in other altered states. If, the day before, you were in a trance state, had a waking out-of-body experience, did remote viewing or went on a shamanic journey, the dream can respond to those inner events. A dream is not the same as these states of consciousness, but it may be an extension or translation of them. For example, it is possible to dream about being in trance, or to dream about doing remote viewing, without actually doing it again.

Don't forget the most common altered state of all. Your dreams! You can dream of a person, place or thing that you do not know in waking life and have not imagined, but which was pictured in the dream state. The source of visual material for your current dream event could come from a past night, from earlier in the same night or even from a former scene of your current dream.

Ask yourself: What pictures from imagination or altered states might be reflected in my dream?

Extra-Sensory Perception

Most of published cases of extra-sensory perception are those that respond to material reality. If clairvoyance is operative, you might shift your perception to physical location you've never visited. Through precognition, you can reach ahead of time to dream of an airline disaster yet to happen.

Nevertheless, psi can hone in on the virtual and imaginal, too. The virtual world would be accessed via psychometry if you were to dream of a picture or newspaper article hidden in the envelope you held in your hand. You can tune into someone's imagination via dream telepathy. And tap into someone else's visual dream when you do mutual dreaming.

Entopic Imagery

Some flights occur amid abstract patterns and variants of light that are the result of the brain's activities. This entopic imagery is visual phenomena arising within the optic system itself. It includes flashes of light, floaters, and phosphenes, which are seen as the result of physical stimulation such as pressing against the eye. The diffraction of light on the blood vessels of the retina can produce an image of black lacework against a red background, for instance.

But the phenomena most often incorporated into altered states are what Heinrich Kluver called "form constants." These are spontaneous patterns of cortical activity, rotations, reflections and translations that appear as geometric images in motion. They can be seen most clearly during hypnogogia, when passing from the waking state to sleep. They include grids (grating, chessboards, lattices, filigrees), cobwebs, spirals, tunnels, curves, spots and kaleidoscopic effects.

No Imagery

Most visual imagery is formed from memories of waking sight. Some flashes or patterns of light may be induced by the brain itself. In either case, folks with congenital blindness do not dream of visual imagery, although their dreams will include other elements (thought, emotion, sensation or feeling in sleep). The production of dream inner pictures requires that the dreamer have the perceptual equipment, the brain and body, to form visual pictures in the waking state.

In addition, personality plays a part. Mathematicians, engineers and people in other cognitive vocations may not be in the habit of picturing their ideas. Rather, they might think in terms of numbers or abstract concepts. Without waking practice, their ability to form pictures during sleep is limited. Again, their dreams will include other elements. It's also possible for the average dreamer to occasionally have their usual visualization replaced by other sorts of mental activity.

To "recall a dream" most often refers to remembrance of visual imagery. It's important to keep in mind that, at times, there might not be much visual imagery to remember!

  • Bogzaran, Fariba. "Lucid Art and Hyperspace Lucidity," Dreaming, 13(1), 29-42 (2003).
  • Bressloff, P. C., J. D. Cowan, M. Golubitsky, P. J. Thomas & M. C. Wiener, "Geometric visual hallucinations, Euclidean symmetry, and the functional architecture of striate cortex," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 356(1407), 299-330 (2001). Abstract: http://math.uh.edu/~dynamics/reprints/abstracts/00BCGTW.html (3/12/03).
  • Kappes, Steve. "Mathematicians view unstable activity in brain to better understand circuitry of visual cortex," The University of Chicago Chronicle, 20(5) (April 21, 2001).
    http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/010426/visual-cortex.shtml (3/13/03).
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  • Magallón, L. L.. "Dream Trek: Expanding The Components For A Dream," Dream Network Bulletin, 8(4-6), 7 (1989).
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  • Monroe, Robert A. Journeys Out of the Body, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977).
  • "Paul Bressloff" Home page: http://www.neuroscience.med.utah.edu/Faculty/Bressloff.html (3/13/03).
  • Psychic Voyages. Ed. Time-Life. (Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA. 1987).
  • Revonsuo, Antti and Christina Salmuvalli. "A Content Analysis of Bizarre Elements in Dreams," Dreaming, 5(3), 169-187.
  • Siegel, Ronald K. Fire in the Brain: Clinical Tales of Hallucination. (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
  • Thurston, Linda. "Entopic Imagery in People and Their Art," M.A. thesis, Gallatin Division of New York University (4/15/91). http://home.attbi.com/~markk2000/thurston/thesis.html (3/12/03).
  • Van de Castle, Robert L. Our Dreaming Mind, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), 433-436.
  • Wilkerson, Richard, Catlett. "Dreams of the Blind," Electric Dreams, 2(1) (Jan 20/1995).

(Dream Flights)