Exploring The Dreaming Universe with Fred Alan Wolf

28 Oct

This book is one hell of a ride. I kept scratching my head, wondering to myself just what the hell this book is ultimately about. Wolfs writing is expansive and wide-reaching, and he is not scared to venture into speculative conclusions as he speaks about near death experiences, lucid dreams, God, quantum physics, the Aboriginal concept of the dreamtime, UFO’s, consciousness, the imaginal-realm, Jung, Freud, Libet, an odd foray into Russian art and architecture, and quite a lot more.

His book covers this wide range of concepts and subjects in an attempt to illustrate his central thesis:

We dream to create the self / non-self split between ourselves and everything else that exists.

I’ll admit it – this theory caught me off guard. Upon finishing this book I still didn’t fully ‘get it’ but nevertheless, reading this book was like a philosophical wet dream (pun intended). I loved it.


He opens with the book by stating this thesis and then backs up to Freud and Jung and their theories of the psyche and on dreams. Wolf attempts to lead the reader through these theories keeping in mind the physics at the time.

It was through the lens of a very mechanical, classical Newtonian viewpoint of the world that Freud theorized the mind to consist of different parts, comparing it to the steam engine, similar to the popular comparison today between the mind and the computer.

Freud thought of dreams as what happened when the electrical charge built up by neurons inside the brain were discharged. He theorized that dreams allowed a person to fulfill their repressed unconscious desires while allowing their ego to sleep.

This contrasts to Carl Jung’s theory that dreams relate to origins and ideas, that dreams are here to tell us something about our future behavior – that dreams were here to actually reveal something to us.

Jung believed that dreams tapped into what he called the universal unconsciousness. In this realm you find the themes and images – or rather, tendencies towards these themes and images – that are common to all people of all cultures, for all time. He calls these themes archetypes.

I’m totally fascinated by Jung’s theories on this universal unconsciousness and I was hoping to find more of Wolf’s thoughts on it. I see it relating to another concept Wolf speaks called the imaginal-realm (more on this later.)

The book loses me with complex details on Jung’s ideas and his own ideas on energy, but picks me up again with the concept of synchronicity.

Synchronicity says that order can exist outside of the simple cause and effect manner so prevalent in our Western way of thinking.

This is to say, if something happens, it’s not necessarily because of what happened before it. I find this a strange and odd viewpoint, and yet it parallels with ideas found within Wolf’s profession as a quantum physicist.

Wolf then traces back to the theories on dreams before Freud and Jung, back to the time when dreams were seen as messages from the Gods and then to the roots of modern dream research with Aristotle’s viewpoints that dreams were residual impressions on our senses.

In one of the more fascinating sections of the book, Wolf writes about the concept of time in a dream and if it time really exists in the same sense as it does to us outside of dreaming.

I have often wondered if my dreams really were experienced in time. It’s hard to explain – but do dreams exists as a real narrative, an experience that lasts as long as it felt it lasted? Or are they more like an implanted memory, and upon waking up, we order the events and feel that it all went from point A to point B, when in fact it was all simply packaged up and delivered to us at once?

We are treated to a fascinating experience of Alfred Muary’s, a dream researcher from the 19th century, who had a winding dream involving the French revolution. He was tried and sentenced to death. He walks through the streets on the way to the guillotine, hands tied behind his back, and up the stairs to his death. He lies on his stomach and puts his head on the block and the blade comes down, separating his head from his body. This crazy dream experience startled Muary so much that he awoke and was then fascinated to learn that the top of his bed had fallen on his neck in precisely the same place the blade had touched his neck in the dream!

Is it possible that the dream then occurred in the space of less than a second, projecting the experience of the dream backward through time or was it just a big coincidence?

…..There is simply too much to cover for a book such as this that brings together so many ideas, sometimes in a disjointed and unorganized manner. Instead of attempting to summarize the book bit by book, I’d simply like to share with you what I found to be the most fascinating issues brought up within this book.A concept explored in detail is the imaginal-realm (IR).This term is used to describe the realm of the dream and the reality that exists beyond our normal waking perception.It includes lucid dreams, prophetic dreams, and related phenomenon such as near-death experiences and even UFO abductions.The imaginal realm is a way to describe this grey area of ‘reality’ that isn’t exactly real in the everyday sense of the word. We can’t say where it is in terms of space and time, and yet it’s a place that is there, somewhere.

Near-death experiences (NDE) and UFO phenomenon have always fascinated me and Wolf postulates that they border into a world of fantasy and folklore that are aspects of a dreaming unconsciousness, something in the vein of Jungian archetypes. Remember that Jung believed images that surfaced into our dreams could come from this universal unconsciousness, so here we see a connection between the dream world and NDE and UFO’s. Could it be that somehow this imaginal realm or that these archetypes somehow coalesce with our everyday reality and manifests themselves here? I’ll quote here from page 219 :

“…it seems reasonable that a mental image can coalesce and stabilize in the material world, however briefly. So that we, in fact, are dreaming on a collective level and actually encountering something of that hybrid reality in a personal way.”

Wolf compares these imaginal realm experiences to fundamental subatomic particles that exist for less than a period of a second but are believed by scientists to be just as real as other particles, such as electrons, which basically exist forever.

This brings us to Tibetan Buddhists who practice creating tulpas – materialized thought forms.This is done by meditating intensely until this thought form is projected outward like a hologram that others can see and then becomes material. Very interesting, but Wolf wisely concedes this isn’t exactly scientific evidence for imaginal-realm objects manifesting themselves elsewhere.

Better than this, we are treated to the work of Michael Persinger and Paul Devereux. They relate UFO experiences to electromagnetic and tectonic stress, as in tectonic plate movement of the earth’s crust. These seismic events release an electromagnetic energy burst. At the right distance, someone could see this energy burst as a light show, similar looking to the light shows reported by those who have close encounters with UFOs. Lose some of that distance, and this electromagnetic energy may be physically felt in the body in such ways as tingling, goose bumps, and hair standing up on its ends. Closer than this, and this electromagnetic energy interrupts the brain, causing hallucinations and psychological disturbances!

Similarly, neurologists have discovered that by electrically stimulating parts of the brain, subjects enter into a “dreamy state.”

Michael Persinger claims that all components of the NDE can be replicated with electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe. Fascinatingly, this includes the out of body experience, floating, being pulled towards the light, hearing strange music, and feeling a profound sense of meaning.

This leads to a strong correlation between imaginal-realm experiences and simple stimulation of the brain. What I want to know is – where can I find a doctor who will hook me up to some electrical stimulation so I can jump right into the imaginal realm?

The book closes with a rephrasing of the classic question “Do you believe in God?”Being that this is a question I have thought of my whole life, I was really jolted by Mr. Wolf’s take on this question of belief and faith. Rather than asking “Do I believe in God?” he says, “Am I able to create within my life a sense of the presence of God?” Mr. Wolf leaves the question open by answering that there is a basic mystery going on that is very deep. And occasionally he is open enough to see it. When this happens, he is able to experience this presence.

On this point, Fred Alan Wolf says that God is: “…more of a question of awareness than belief.”

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