A dream I had many years ago is a good example of how the brain naturally
finds patterns and associations and forms “visual principles” that may be
close to the convergence point where thought gives way to language.
My analysis of the dream would fill a book, so I will stick to one aspect.
In part of the dream I found myself tossing a chaff-like material into a
nest which contained burning objects. The closest description of the form
of the objects is the shape of the piece of peel you would obtain if you
pushed a rectangular biscuit cutter into an orange. However, the objects in
the dream were pure white and somewhat thinner than orange peel.
The dream was the final one of a trilogy, and the theme seemed to centre on
my father and smoking (At that time I was smoking heavily and was about the
same age as my father when he died of cancer), and some of the dream action
took place on a farm I frequented as a boy and where we made pipes and
smoked tea leaves. I could not fathom what the strange curved, white,
rectangular objects represented until I sat down and pulled out a cigarette
paper to roll a cigarette. It suddenly struck me that there was part of my
brain that did not function on natural language and did not encode the
perception as a cigarette paper, tobacco and Basil Hall lighting a
cigarette; it merely recorded the thin white rectangular object which was
associated with finely divided brownish material and a flame. The answer
suddenly hit me . Preceding the dream, over a period of a few weeks, three
things had occurred:
1) I had started to roll my own cigarettes using rectangular white papers.
2) We had bought a new breakfast cereal that contained crushed oats and
curved strips of white coconut, which I had not recognised as such at first.
3) Our Peach-faced love bird Ralph? had laid a white egg amongst the seed
chaff at the bottom of her cage.
Here I had three examples of whiteness associated with divided plant
material, further connected by their association with bowls: the bowl of a
smoker’s pipe, the bowl of a nest and a cereal bowl. My brain had taken the
three objects, the cigarette paper, the strips of coconut and the egg and
combined them in a single object, a kind of visual principle.
I have found that the content of my dreams are often things and events that
have a high emotive aspect or ideas induced by unsolved puzzles and
problems. My initial inability to work out the nature of the curved white
strip in the cereal probably set in train a basic type of thinking that made
the object “meaningful” by uniting it with other white objects in a visual
“principle”. This is a long way from the theory of relativity, but the
production by the brain of “visual principles” comes closer to verbal
principles than considerations of depolarisations occurring along axons and
There were inner voiced sentences in the dream but they were comments, such
as “It’s another way of sleeping”, and “ That is one way of doing it“. There
were also visual puns - one at a cricket match (It was through an accident
playing cricket that my father was diagnosed as having cancer) concerning
the word plumb, as in “He was plumb LBW” (Americans should consult
LBW/cricket in Google) , “He was dead plumb”, “He’s dead” (out). When I
caught the cricket ball in the dream it turned out to be a big black plum. I
have read about other dreams in which cancer has been visualised as a black
polony, and the tribes of Patagonia have the same word for black lumps of
burnt wood and cancer.