Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sleeping Dogs

“When rats rest, their brains simulate journeys to a desired future such as a tasty treat,” says a report on new research funded by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society.

By monitoring brain activity in rats, first as the animals viewed food behind a glass partition, then while resting in a separate chamber, and finally as they had access to the treat, the researchers suggest that during the rest period the rats simulated walking to and from food that they had been unable to reach. The study, published in the open access journal eLife, started me thinking about what dreams a dog may have.

I look at Buddy, totally relaxed, eyes closed, breathing slowly, evenly. He sleeps at my feet when I am churning out words or just thinking about words to churn. He is in his private world. Then he moves.

Dogs sleep quickly and quietly and easily. But sometimes, as I watch ours, I see them moving, running, paws moving horizontally at a speed that, were they upright, would take them from one end of the house or deck or yard to the other in fleeting seconds. But they sleep. They dream. Then they wake up. And I wonder: do they know the difference?

Early humans must have experienced the same phenomenon we observe in our dogs, must have slept, had dreams, awakened to a new day, unable to explain to themselves what was reality and what was not. Do dogs, when waking from a dream, expect that at sometime they will re-enter that other world, find the rabbit or the chipmunk or bird they lost in the dream world? Did early humans find it difficult to know which was the real world, and did they think that each new morning was a new life, as was each dream? I think about those things as I look at Buddy running in his dream. Does what passes for a smile mean he caught the object of his chase, or does he smile because it is the chase that drives him on, and he knows that when that other life returns, he will find that the chase goes on?

Dreams can seem so real. We know, when we awaken, that it was “only a dream,” but what if it was not? What if the “reality” is the dream? What if all of this, the life we have, is but the figment of someone else’s imagination? There’s a story in that, to be sure, but how can it end?

What I’m doing here (if “here” is real) is part of the writing process. I take an idea, separate it from what is real, add back some truth and some maybes, and a story is born. Not all survive to adulthood, as it were, but enough do to keep the process alive and interesting to me; interesting enough to keep doing it over and over. When the partition between awake and asleep, between dream and reality is removed, then the combination of what I know and what I think I know, what is and what is “perhaps,” becomes the reality of fiction.

It is what wakes me up every day.

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