I dreamt I was a butterfly . . . Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. — Chuang Tsu
From time to time, I’ve wondered whether my life is simply a dream, and when I finally awake, I’ll turn out to be some alien on a distant planet. In that case, everyone I’ve met is imaginary, and nobody really exists here except me. For that matter, even I don’t exist, as I am also a figment. Weird.
Anyway, recently I got to wondering how old someone might become if they could have a dream that lasted several decades. So I pulled out the calculator and reckoned that a dream that spans eighty years is more than 600,000 times longer than a simple hour-long dream of a human. Six hundred thousand? If his or her dreams took up the same proportion of their “day” as our dreams take up in ours, the dreamer would have a lifespan approaching … (let’s see, 600,000 times 80, round up 2 million, square root of minus one, check six) … 50,000,000 years.
Fifty million years. A mere ten of their lifespans would roll the calendar back to the era when Earth creatures first dragged themselves onto the land. Seventy such lifetimes would extend all the way to the distant moment when life first appeared on our planet.
Now, seventy doesn’t seem like enough generations to allow for evolution to create beings that have super-long lifespans with complex dreams. Maybe they live in a universe that’s, not billions, but trillions of years old. That should give them enough time to evolve. Perhaps by now they huddle around the fading warmth of an ancient red-dwarf star, and, as the lights slowly wink out in their galaxy, they find themselves alone and bored. So they develop a group dream, and within it they conjure up all of us. In that case, you and I are characters inside minds that can visit each others’ reveries. When we do things, it’s really them, dreaming together; when we speak, it’s them, murmuring somnolently to each other.
–Whoa! I need to lie down.
(Maybe I’ll dream…)