Last night, I had yet another in the series of “Grandpa” dreams. The dream itself was pretty vague, but there was one part that I definitely remember. At one point in the dream, my Grandpa was having trouble communicating with me and clearly wanted to tell me something. He took a pen and paper, and proceeded to write me a note. When I looked at the note, it was gibberish, and I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say.
I am not one who believes in the symbolic significance of dreams. Frankly, I think Freud was full of crap, and I have read very little credible scientific justification for his theories. Instead, I believe that the purpose of dreams is to help to commit short-term memories to long-term memories. When synapsis fire, they trigger random images in our short term memory–which explains why we often dream about recent events. Any other relationship between dreams and reality, in my mind, is pure coincidence.
And yet, if I were to believe in the Freudian theory of dreams, I might be tempted to read into this dream more than was actually there. I might, for instance, wonder to myself if my Grandpa was not trying to tell me something, warn me of something from beyond the grave, remind me of something. Frankly, I don’t believe any of this and I am certain that my Grandpa would think of me as foolish for even considering it.
But let’s suppose he was trying to remind me of something. What would it be? I wracked my brain on the way into work this morning, considering this. When I got into work, I went through my normal routine, glancing at my email, and then updating my outgoing voicemail with the current date. And as I said the date, I instantly realized what it was that my Grandpa may have been trying to remind me:
Nine years ago today, April 21, 1997, my Grandma died at about 11 AM.
This is a bit of an eerie coincidence, and one in which I am sure many people would fill with all sorts of supernatural nonsense. However, there is a rational explanation for it. First of all, I am very good at keeping dates in my head and I am certain that in the last couple of days, I realized that April 21 was soon approaching and what significnce it held. This thought, kept in short-term memory, would need to be committed to long term memory or done away with. This is the very purpose that the dream function serves. When this memory was triggered, a dream was formed around it–one in which my Grandpa was trying to remind me of my Grandma on this day. Add to this the pure coincidence that the dream took place last night, and you have yourself a complete and rational explanation for something which far too much significance is often attributed.
I suppose that many people don’t question these types of experiences because they provide some kind of reasuring comfort, but they provide no such comfort to me. My comfort comes from understanding, as much as possible, the observable and explainable universe that surrounds me. If I were to search for deeper meaning in the ambigious “message” that my dream-Grandpa scribbled out for me in his chicken scratch it would be his approval of my rational approach to understanding this universe.