Measuring Time in a Dream World
If the world is really a dream, our conception of time will have to change. Given modern science’s current belief that 13.7 billion years have passed since the Big Bang, this may take some doing. On the other hand, if it turns out the world is really a dream we will have to change our frame of reference for determining the age of the cosmos. Consider the following hypothetical.
The alarm clock reads 11:05 p.m. and you doze off to sleep. Reading all those Stephen Jay Gould essays made you carry the thought of paleontology to bed with you. Soon you begin to dream. In the dream, you are a scientist out to discover the age of the earth. As a location for your research you pick the Grand Canyon. A mule takes you to the bottom of the canyon. There, using the modern technique of radioactive dating, you determine that rocks at the floor are two billion years old. Excited with this discovery, you anxiously mount the mule and ride up to the surface. On the way up you think about the article you will write for Scientific American in which you will disprove once and for all the creationist theory that the earth is only a paltry 6000 years old.
Suddenly a car alarm goes off outside your window and you wake up startled; you look at the clock; it reads 11:25 p.m.
Question: How long have you been dreaming? Two billion years or twenty minutes? Clearly the answer is twenty minutes. No one sleeps or dreams for two billion years. This example illustrates one point. In a dream, it is inappropriate to base the age of the imagined world from the perspective of a material object in that world. Rather, the story’s age is calculated through the eyes of the author, or the originator of the imaginary world. During a dream, the dreamer is necessarily fooled into thinking that the object of the dream—here the Grand Canyon—exists independently of the mind. That is the point of dreaming. When the dreamer takes out his modern instruments to measure the age of the canyon rocks, he continues the dream; he continues to believe both the rocks and the dating device exist external to the mind, and were created by forces other than the mind.
But clearly, at least in the example above, the dreamer is dreaming both the canyon and the dating device. These objects were placed there as reflections of the internal states of the dreamer; they were put there immediately and created from the imagination. Basing the age of a dream upon an object dreamed simply means that the dreamer continues to be fooled by the apparent independent reality of the dream. Once the dreamer realizes he is the source for the dream, once he wakes up, he may discover that it is senseless to base the age of a dream upon something in the dream. The age of a dream is determined from the perspective of the mind, not by objects in the dream. For even children are capable of dreaming about rocks, dinosaurs, and stars.
Well then, how does one determine the age of a dream world? Among the possible methods are to consider how long it might take to develop a civilization of common dreamers, with language being perhaps the best benchmark. Through the miracle of the dreaming power, we may be able to project an external world, but only raw experience in that world can bring civilization, culture, and modes of communication.
How old does the world look to you? Share your comments here.