The world of sleep and dreams has long been steeped in mystery, lore, and legend. We have long wondered what our dreams mean, where they take us, and why we even do it. These are profound questions which have occupied our thoughts for eons, with each disparate culture coming up with their own semblance of an answer throughout history but the ultimate answer remaining elusive even now. Although we have some sort of an inkling of an idea of how dreams work, or at least we think we do, there is little in the way of why they happen or what exactly they mean. One of the more unusual and stranger ideas out there concerning dreams is that they literally take us to new worlds and realms on the fringes of our understanding, that they allow us to transcend some barrier to fly off into the alien landscapes of unknown dimensions. It is a curious, even eyebrow raising idea to be sure, but has been much discussed and seems to be worth at least looking at.
Before looking at these bizarre dream journeys it is important to understand some concepts that could lie behind the proposed phenomenon, specifically that of the theory that there are other dimensions and realities overlapping and bumping up against our own. The most well-known of the theories concerning this is what is called the “Many Worlds interpretation,” or also the “Mulitverse” theory, which has its recent origins in the 20th century. It is a complex idea indeed, wrapped up in talk of quantum physics and spooky actions of the universe which we do not yet fully comprehend and which I do not intend to delve into the logistics of too deeply here, but the basic idea is that there are other realities that perhaps branch off of our own and simultaneously coexist in the same time and space as us. In these interlocked realities, all possibilities of our actions and decisions have been realized and gone off into their own reality or world, essentially creating infinite daughter universes. This is all based on the idea in quantum physics that every possible outcome and configuration exists simultaneously until a sentient observer forces it to congeal into one.
One way to look at it is that each and every decision you make has only one outcome in this particular reality, based on the decision or action you made at the time. However, while you may have not made the opposite decision in this reality, in another you did. So while in one reality you for instance overslept and missed a meeting, in another reality you made the meeting, and on and on, with the butterfly effect potentially spreading outwards until there are alternate versions of you with vastly different lives, and even realities in which you have died or were never even born at all. It is all based on the quantum theory that every possible outcome is realized somewhere, we only just see the one that has materialized in this world we now inhabit, with the others branching out into parallel dimensions of their own. One researcher of this theory, a Howard Wiseman of Griffith University in Australia, has explained of the idea thus:
All possibilities are therefore realized – in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonized by the Portuguese. The beauty of our approach is that if there is just one world our theory reduces to Newtonian mechanics, while if there is a gigantic number of worlds it reproduces quantum mechanics. In between it predicts something new that is neither Newton’s theory nor quantum theory.
These hypothetical alternate realities are not any less or more than ours, they are not merely copies or spin-offs, but rather full fledged universes every bit as real as our own down to the last atom, and which have merely diverged to encompass pretty much every conceivable combination of factors and configurations and in which infinite numbers of ourselves go about their lives unaware that they are not the only ones. These new universes with their own futures are not inferior, they just represent all of the outcomes that we have never seen, and ours the outcomes that they have not seen, and they all exist right now at the same time. This is the general idea, and another researcher named Phillip Pulman has explained of it:
If a coin comes down heads that means that the possibility of its coming down tails has collapsed, until that moment the two possibilities were equal. But on another world, it does come down tails. And when that happens, the two worlds split apart.
There is much more to the whole idea than this, and I have only brushed on the very basics of the basic concept here, but it all leaves the question of: if these realities are out there right on top of us, overlaid and stacked upon us, then is there ever any communication or contact between them? Is it possible to peer into or even enter these parallel realms? The idea that such crossovers might be possible have already been suggested by myself in another article on such matters, with phenomena such as deja vu, which could be a stray memory from an alternate you who has been there crossing over to you and making it you feel like you’ve been somewhere even if you yourself have not. This is where the idea of dream travel to other dimensions comes in, which ponders the question of whether our dreams are at least at times offering us glimpses of alternate universes beyond our ordinary perceived reality.
If so there are other duplicate versions of you that have branched off and live different lives, all while still being you down to every last atom, and some of which have nearly identical timelines, perhaps the only thing different being that one of them ate bacon for breakfast this morning and the other did not. If one is having a recurring dream that is incredibly life-like and vivid to the point that it feels like they are really there and they feel that they have visited this place or lived this scene even though they have not, at least in this reality, then is it possible that through some little-understood process they are tapping into the memories and experiences of an alternate version of them? If you, say, keep dreaming about being in a different profession or living in a different house or even country, right down to where you can smell and even taste it, then is this perhaps because you have actually experienced that in another timeline and your sleeping mind has simply opened up enough to allow you access to it? Through dreams are we getting snap shots and peeks of how our lives could have gone differently?
This is all certainly pure speculation of course, but it is an interesting thought experiment to ponder, and has at least been given consideration by numerous physicists. So how would this dream theory work? How does dreaming hypothetically allow us to link into alternate dimensions? One idea is that since our conscious mind and the barriers it constructs are lowered, it allows our subconscious mind to cross over unfettered through these windows between realities, and suggests that at least our subconscious may be operating in our own reality and others simultaneously. The theory is that the full brunt of our subconscious mind is unleashed when we sleep, and that without our full waking consciousness turned on to lock us onto our actual reality we are perhaps more free to venture outward and make contact with the consciousness of our other selves. In essence we are able to more readily reach out into altered states of reality and consciousness.
Another is that even though we only truly witness one course of events for each action or decision, we can nevertheless imagine how things could have gone, called “counterfactual” experiences, and since these are things that by the Many Worlds Interpretation have actually happened in an alternate reality and are often manifested in dreams where we live them out, then this means that dreams could be showing us how these counterfactuals have actually played out our other selves. Boston University neurologist Patrick McNamara has explained of this:
Dreaming largely consists of counterfactual simulations of what might have been and what might be for the dreamer. A first default and easy hypothesis would be then that dreaming actually really depicts events occurring in a real alternate world unfolding from the initial branching event. The common sense and most reasonable answer is of course that they occur in the mind of the dreamer. However, If the many worlds framework is correct and dreaming consists of counterfactual simulations of what might have been and what might be for the dreamer in a world that branches off of the dreamer's parent world then is it possible that dreams actually depict what is going on in the life of my counterpart in the alternate world he lives in? If that is the case then my dreams are portals into the life of one of these branching worlds predicted by the [many worlds interpretation].
Under this scenario the content of dreams would be simple perceptions of the lives of your counterparts who live in daughter worlds to your world and the interpretation of dreams would be a simple matter of checking in with what is occurring in the lives of your counterparts as they are created each time a branching event occurs. Lucid dreams would be attempts to alter the histories of an alternate world and so on.
It’s all quite intriguing at the very least, and whether any of this is actually a real thing or not, it is interesting that there are plenty of reports of extremely vivid dreams that have left people convinced that they have witnessed such a parallel timeline in their dreams. Take the Reddit poster “Highlander,” who wrote of having experiences within his or her dreams that leave the impression that they are reliving different events in a different reality. Highlander says (complete with typos, not mine funnily enough):
There's this train station that i always go in my dreams and i only know that train station. In real life, when i think of a train station, i immediately think of the ones near my house or my work. In my dreams, i immediately think of that one, with a park in the back, trees, etc. This doesn't exist in real life but in my dreams it's the train station i always use.
About 2 years ago i had a dream where i went with some friends to a theme park. We entered this Horror House where we had to pass some tests to get to the finish line. Those tests were very physical and frightening (jump on rocks to not get burned by lava, hide from real monsters, avoid axes and arrows...). I got tired and got hurt.
This week, in a dream, some friends invited me to that House again. I immediately remembered that experience and i said no to them. But it was curious because i didn't know i was dreaming. For me, this happened in real life (that alternate life that i thought was real). In waking life i never remembered that house.
It's like i have 2 lifes (waking and sleeping) with different events and i remembered those events separately in each of these lifes.
The commenter goes on to describe getting further comments writing it all off as merely a dream, but he/she is convinced that it is something more. Another article on experienceproject.com by “mobiuswahn” explains the commenter’s assertion that he has been traveling to alternate realities in dreams. He says:
My most startling experience was when I dreamed of running from angry arabs in a destroyed NYC 2 months before 9/11 happened. I have also had recurring settings in my dreams in which nothing really happens but I am revisiting cities and people that don't exist in this world. These strange cities are so detailed that I can draw you a map of them.
I believe that through meditation I have managed to open a gate to other worlds when I am asleep. It is the theory that when you are asleep in this world, you are awake in another world.
I have died 3 times in 3 different worlds and I haven't had dreams about those worlds since. I know how drownding feels because that is one of the ways I died. In atleast 2 worlds, there is an extra great lake in the location of Lake Winnipeg in Canada and it drains into the Missouri river making it the widest river in America. Because of this, Omaha,Ne is as big as Chicago and they have the space needle in one of the two worlds. In another world I am a sailor in the russian navy, stationed in Miami,Fla, and everyone speaks russian.
These are the worlds I remember the most and these "dreams" are so real and detailed that they seem more like memories than dreams.
Another commenter known as “katiwashere” shared his own dream visions of what he claims to be alternate realities, saying:
About 9 months ago, I started to have intense dreams every night. Most of the time I would realize I was dreaming and wake myself up somehow, usually by causing my own death or subconsciously creating entities to kill me.
Then, starting about two weeks ago, I started to have the feeling that my dreams were actually transporting me to a parallel universe where I would live the life of my parallel universe self for the duration of the dream. Sometimes, it would be super mundane and normal, like my real life but with certain people playing different roles (boyfriend, boss, best friends, etc.) or the city I live in would appear with minor to major changes. Other general moods of my dream universes are: dangerous, sad, and even successful, if that makes any sense? Also notable is that if I wake up, I'm not disoriented but rather recognize that I've just woken up from a dream and can fall back asleep easily and re-enter the same dream/universe.
In another account similar account, a commenter on a “glitch in the Matrix” thread claimed that she was escaping her life every night to go out and live another, in which an alternate version of himself dwelled. He would say:
In "real" life, I am happily married for a little over a year, no problems and no secretly wanting out or anything. However, last night I had a vivid dream that I was married to someone else. We were celebrating our second anniversary and his family and (I'm assuming) our friends were celebrating with us, though my "real life" family was suspiciously absent. The only part that didn't seem real to me was during one point when I was looking at us from afar and not experiencing the dream from my own perspective. This was at the very beginning of the dream and then I seemed to "pop" into my own body. I did look different in the fact that I was much skinnier but that was the only change. I had a very heavy, long-sleeved, and floor length dress on and I could feel the fabric rubbing against my skin as I remember it feeling very stiff and formal. Right before I woke up, I remember hugging my alternate "husband's" mom and feeling the fabric of her dress as well as her hair rubbing against my face while I hugged her. I'm not a very tactile person in waking life so to remember these kind of details is unusual for me, if I have a vivid dream it's usually dreaming in bright colors or strong emotions- like I might wake up scared with my heart pounding or I may wake up crying.
Yet another commenter on the same site gave his own experience:
So I'm sitting on my couch in my living room and I was tired so close my eyes for a while to rest, like maybe five minutes or so. When I open them everything seemed a bit off. Like items in the room were either not in the same place or I have never seen them in my life before. Now I know some people would say I was dreaming, but at this point I think I can tell the difference from a dream to reality. Like I could look down at my sweater and count the threads. Anyway in a confused state I walk into my kitchen and see even more strange items. There are children's toys laying about (I do not have kids) and I see one of those big boxes of Crayola Crayons on the counter. I pick it up and open it and pull out a random crayon. The Crayola Crayons in case someone doesn't know has the name of the color printed on the side, and when I checked this one read "Blue". But when I looked at the crayon it definitely was not any type of blue that I was familiar with, it was more of a green color. Then this is where things got really freaky. I look out of the backdoor and see MYSELF doing yard work in the backyard. I watch for about a minute and I'm like I should probably leave. When I walk back to the living room everything faded away to black. I open my eyes and I'm back on the couch in what I assume is my normal time line.
Such cases are numerous, and in fact you have probably experienced something like it yourself. What is going on here? Are these people really making contact with their own consciousness in other dimensions or are these just extremely vivid dreams conjured up by their own minds in this one? This is all rather far-out to be sure, and although it is theoretically possible there is no real evidence that there are parallel universes or that our dreams are anything more than the rumination of our sleeping mind working things out. Yet what if it is true? Is there any possibility that this outlandish idea had anything to it? We might never know for sure, but there are certainly bizarre aspects of our universe and reality that we have yet to uncover, and Max Erik Tegmark of he Massachusetts Institute of Technology has mused on the matter:
When we ask a profound question about the nature of reality, do we not expect an answer that sounds strange? Evolution provided us with intuition for the everyday physics that had survival value for our distant ancestors, so whenever we venture beyond the everyday world, we should expect it to seem bizarre.
Why do dream and where does it take us? Are these visions we witness at night just our subconscious going over the events of our lives? Is it all in our heads? Or is there something more to these journeys we take within those mysterious confines of sleep? Are we indeed flying off to alternate realities and new lands, seeing what could have been for us and jumping into different versions of ourselves to partake of alien memories of an alternate self we don't even know exists? It is a mind-bending concept, and one which may just be all pure speculation, but it does stir the imagination and definitely gives a new twist to the ageless mystery of our dream world.