Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dream reader.

Sleep reading is something we discussed back when I was a kid. There was a longstanding theory that if you went to sleep with your textbook under your pillow, you would absorb the information within as you slept. Kind of like how you could press your pants by putting them between the box spring and mattress overnight.

The pants pressing works if you do it right, but the sleep absorption never seemed to work, and not just because it's ridiculous. Apparently there are a few things you cannot do while dreaming, and one is read. You can fly, you can get shot to death, you can eat and drink anything, you can meet famous people, you can go to lands that don't exist, but you can't read.

Why? Bookriot, who ought to know, tells us that "When we dream, the part of the brain responsible for logic and intellect shuts down, allowing us to accept crazy dream stuff as reality while at the same time inhibiting our ability to interpret letters and numbers. Indeed, trying to read something and not being able to is considered one of the surefire signs that you’re dreaming (a few others are not being able to read clocks–one of the reasons why you find so many clocks in surrealist paintings–distortion in everyday patterns like brickwork or wallpaper, and not being able to see yourself in a mirror–you either won’t look like yourself or your face will be blurry)."

In fact, Bookriot asks, the last time you tried to read something in a dream, "Did you actually see letters? Was it a blank sheet of paper, or an incomprehensible jumble? Chances are it was."

I'd wondered if it was true, and indeed, within the last month I had a couple of dreams that convinced me there was something to it. In the first I was in a strange train station and trying to find the right train, and the sign looked like a jumble of letters; I tried so hard to read it (like an act of will would pull it together) that I woke myself up. In the second I was reading for work -- as an editor, I do that a lot -- and all I could see were words of no more than three letters, none of which made sense.

Which brings me to Pentecost. I was at the vigil Mass last night, and the first reading was the familiar Tower of Babel story from Genesis:

Then the LORD said: If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another.

The story is often told as if the main sin involved was the tower that was being built in Babel, but you don't actually hear the people saying, "Let's build a tower tall enough to get to heaven so we can take over!" All they say is "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth." Which is close, but there's no indication that God is being challenged. The sin of pride is obviously what offends the Lord, and the threat these people pose to all creation by being unimpeded in their desires.

Also, God doesn't throw down the tower; it seems to just not get built when the people are scattered. Tarot cards not withstanding.

So what does the legend of Babel have to do with being unable to read in dreams? What silly connection have I made now?

Simply put: pqr nbz re. Or, in awake terms, language.

As in dreams, when the logic center shuts down, the prideful people in the legend of Babel also lose their reason, because of pride. They had a dream to "make a name for ourselves" and in that dream they lost their language.

The reason this is read at Pentecost is because we see the restoration by the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Jesus. The apostles, submitting to the will of God, receive the Holy Spirit and emerge speaking in tongues, astonishing the listeners in Jerusalem who came from all over the known world. What was scattered and confused in pride is gathered and restored in humility.

Now, last night I dreamed I was a voice actor for the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, a job of which I was quite proud. But I was feuding with one of the other actors who had a better part. As the dream went on I came to realize that A) my character was a very minor CGI alien and B) I had no idea what I was doing. I'm no actor! I don't understand the directions or process of voice acting! I don't know my lines! Pride falleth before the truth, eh? And by the way, I couldn't make out any text on the script at all, except for scribbled margin notes that said things like pqr nbz re. 

Well, movies have no logic anyway.

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