A Shared Dream
by Yadira Álvarez Betancourt
Translated by Toshiya Kamei
I can’t stand it any longer. I know, maybe there’s nothing to worry about right now, but I have kids. Viera is expecting her first baby and Henrik is getting married in two months. I can’t face this calmly like other people.
They’re just dreams, it’s true. However, it’s no coincidence that thousands of people have been dreaming fragments of the same story over the years. The technology we created did this, judging from our records and interviews done during the sleep studies.
Visual Exploration and Graphing of Neuroelectric Stimuli in Deep Sleep is a rather long name for something people have been trying to do ever since they were aware of their dreams. VEGNES goes beyond primitive attempts to interpret your dreams by analyzing the few memories the sleeper retains after waking. It’s all about making them visible to others, allowing anyone to be able to “see” clearly what they dreamed.
You don’t remember half, or even a quarter, of what you have dreamed. That mysterious phase of the brain putting everything you have lived or thought while awake in its place will always be a mystery. The brain is a computer that never stops, erasing information when it suffers some illness or injury, or when the mind, specially trained, “forgets.” Dreams are particularly difficult information to take out of the drawers of the subconscious mind; dreams are only useful once you have exposed and analyzed them properly with the help of a specialist.
There I am, dreaming. I came on board this project as a psychologist, a specialist in hypnosis and psychoanalysis. Rostislav and I are the only specialists who didn’t handle complex cybernetic and chemical-metabolic terminology.
In the era of generalization, interdisciplinary work is said to be the prelude to new discoveries. Before a particularly flexible mentality, with powerful capabilities of development of higher nervous functions, it departed from a series of concepts and assumptions derived from experimentation, analysis, and observation. Voilà! Eureka! I did it! A thousand expressions to name the same thing: DISCOVERY. I stitched together the art of imagination and analysis—pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that causes changes—turning the successful researcher into a demigod, capable of understanding a small part of the functioning of the universe, and even intervening in it.
Times change. It’s not that there are fewer things to discover, but that certain basic laws have already been revealed and the rest are derived or secondary applications. The present and the future don’t belong to solitary geniuses, although from time to time someone will take hold of a thread of the universal web. Still, teams weave known threads of the webs-sciences-arts together, linking psychology with cybernetics and calculation, with chemistry and neurology, with animatronics and philosophy. From those threads, VEGNES was born.
I’m not going to say how long it took us, let alone all the efforts we made, all the mistakes and experiments, all the times Swea, an annoying animation specialist, and I grabbed each other’s hair. I only know that Viera was a baby and Henrik didn’t even dream of being born when we started. Today, Swea and I are best friends, full of wrinkles, gray hair, and thousands of old fibs to tell each other over and over again.
When VEGNES was completed, the institute began to study dreams. The devices, which we call “snoops,” got into our volunteers’ dreams, piercing clusters of images edited and organized so that our duly authorized and trained specialists could analyze them. So far so good.
We were often subjected to wet dreams, buried childhood terrors, the archetypal dream of shame and insecurity, and even the one where you wake up and walk down the street naked without realizing it until you find out there’s an embarrassing reason for everyone staring at you. Our exploration into the human psyche annoyed us and we mocked our patients.
But when we delved further into the study, an advisor who supported the editing work noticed something alarming.
Dr. Hermann Djülik, a neurologist, called attention to the constant repetition of certain sequences. They appeared fragmented and distorted by the individual perspective of each user. They were, however, unmistakable.
At first, we didn’t notice it. The doctor reviewed the suspicious sequences and found invariants. He edited those fragments into a collage of different ways of seeing the scene. Clear images were superimposed with opaque ones and some that seemed hand-drawn to reveal a catastrophic event! After reviewing data from the interviews in VEGNES was still a theory, he found descriptions of that dream.
In a place that looks like the interior of a trailer, someone wakes to a frightening sound, a mixture of roaring, thunder, and fire. That spectator gets up and walks to a small window where he sees a wave of fire approaching, shattering houses and plunging everything into a cloud of black smoke. The alter ego in the dream moves away from the window, runs to the interior of his house, and the wall collapses in flames in front of him.
A surreal, strange dream tinged with the sticky slowness of nightmares. It’s nothing to worry about. When Henrik joined a group of surfers, I used to dream every night that they surfed toward a wall of water that fell on them. Everyone has nightmares.
But, this dream recurred. The nightmare was shared among thousands of people in such a way that you could superimpose the chain of events onto one another. It was like negatives of identical photos one after another, some in color, some like cartoons, and others resembling shadow puppets in a stop motion movie. They’re all the same!
The same flowers in the same rustic vases on identical tables, placed next to the same window. The same wallpaper of ships on the wall that explodes. The same minute details.
We don’t know who to turn to. It’s crazy . . . The dream is occurring more frequently in our records, like the warning a virus-infected computer sends again and again, in increasing progression. We decide to keep quiet.
We don’t know if it’s something that has already happened. Maybe to someone with a special power of like telepathy that remained in the collective subconscious as a purposeless beacon. It could be something that will happen, something an individual received in their dream as a prophetic revelation and somehow dispersed it to others.
I’m a mother; I’ll be a grandmother soon. And, I’m scared. I never cared much about the future because I believed it to be more or less safe. Now I don’t feel so safe…