Saturday, September 05, 2015

Patterns in the Universe

Last night I had while I am going to say was a scary dream.  Yeah.  That's exactly what it was. 
I was trying to get to sleep after staying up later than I should have.  I had plans to get up around 5:30 AM to join go hiking with some colleagues.  This is something I do most Saturdays.  
I was laying on my side.  I was feeling sleepy, but something kept prompting me to stay awake.  A feeling...  A sense...  I listened for the sounds of...  Something?  Or someone?  
I rolled over on to my back, to give the room a look to assure myself that I was alone in my apartment and that it was safe to go to sleep.  
That's when I saw the face leering at me.  
It was a woman's face.  Round.  Brown skinned.  A mass of black hair was puffed around it like a halo.  And splitting it in half, from her left brow to her right jawline, was a massive, gapping wound.  
I jumped out of bed.  My heart was trying to pound its way out of my chest to escape, bouncing its way to someplace safe.  The room was dark.  The well lit face was gone.  
I had been asleep.  Asleep and dreaming that I'd rolled over to see this face leering over me.  An angry, accusatory leer.  As if I had been the one that had wounded her like that.  A wound that seemed to go all the way to the back of her skull, lined black with dried blood...
Oh-kay...  Ok...  Enough of that, I told myself.  I went to the kitchen and took a swig of sparkling water.  I turned on the TV in the living room.  I sat on the sofa.  I got up and wandered around the apartment some more.  Got another drink of sparkling water, appreciating how the bubbles from the carbonation tried to burn my thirst away as the water flowed down my throat.  I turned the sound on the TV all the way to "mute," and left the TV on as I walked back into my bedroom and got into bed again.  
I must have eventually dozed off, because the next thing I remember is the alarm going off to tell me it was time to get dressed to join the others on the hiking trail.  
It was later, after we finished our four and a half mile hike, and I got back home and ate breakfast, that something connected to the woman's wounded face.  After breakfast, I lay on the sofa, exhausted from the hike and lack of sleep, and took a long nap.  When I woke up, I turned on the TV to help me shake the sleep off.  A documentary by the Japanese broadcasting company, NHK, about the inner workings of ISIS, the terrorist group taking over chunks of Syria and Iraq, was on.  
There came a scene about the people displaced by the violence.  Pictures of the type we see all the time on the news these days.  Children crying.  People huddled in tents, or in other makeshift shelters.  Sometimes just laying on blankets out in the open, arms thrown over their faces to block the burning sun overhead.  
There was a shot of one group of refugees from Syria.  Women and children on a blanket in the middle of a brown, rocky landscape.  The woman in the middle, holding a child across her lap as she sat on the blanket, turned toward the camera.  
Her face was brown, contrasting with the white bandage that crossed it, from left brown to lower right jaw.  The bandage was ill-fitting and you could see the edges of a ragged wound peaking out from underneath it.  
"Crap...  Is this her?  The woman I saw in my dream last night?"  
The answer is no.  Though there were some striking similarities, it was a different woman.  The biggest difference being that while the woman with the wounded face in my dream glared at me in angry, while this woman, somewhere far away in the desert, looked into the camera with eyes as devoid of emotion as a pair of glass marbles.  
But in that moment when I was struck by the similarities, I could understand how someone might believe, if they had had a dream like mine, followed by seeing a scene like the one I'd seen in the documentary, might believe there was a connection between the two.  It would have been easy to convince oneself in that situation that the face in my dream and the woman's in the documentary were the same.  That there was some "reason" why I was being shown this.  The very way that previous sentence is phrased, "...why I was being shown this," implies agency.  Some intelligence trying to bring it to my attention. 
I am, by nature, a skeptic.  But in the evolution of my understanding of how the universe works, I make a point of not describing myself as a "non-believer" or "atheist."  I've had experiences, which I've relayed on this blog in the past, which I can't shake from an emotional basis even while, intellectually, I'm reasonably sure an explanation exists.  
By coincidence (or so I think) my hiking partners and I touched upon this topic as we walked along the trail this morning.  One of them was describing a birthday party she'd attended where a medium had been hired as part of the entertainment.  She described several acquaintances going to talk to her, returning amazed at all that she "knew" about them, their personalities and their past.  
Listening, I recalled numerous studies and articles that I'd read about how human beings perceive and complete patterns they see in the environment around them.  It is part of the tools we developed to survive the harsh conditions our ancestors lived in before we developed tools to reshape the environment to suit us.  When provided with something that is truly random, we'll impose a pattern on it, so strongly does our brain seek to "recognize" the pattern it assumes is there.  This is how we find constellations in the sky at night, or recognize the face of the Virgin Mary in a rust stain on the side of the building.  
Associated with that is our brain's mechanism of attribution, also a survival hold over.  If our caveman hears a rustling in the bushes, it is much safer for him to assume that it is a saber-toothed tiger out to eat him, rather than just the wind moving the branches about.  If it is just the wind, then running away or staying put has the same outcome.  If it is really a deadly predator, then assuming the worst allows you to pass on your genes to another generation.  
The medium at the party uses this same ability, unconsciously I'll say, to "see" her subject's past or future.  A probing statement, like, "I see a ticket..." can reveal much different things if the subject says, "Oh!  Do I win?" rather than, "Oh, no...  Does the judge let me off?" 
My other friend offered her own point of view about how, while she doesn't believe in such things she avoids them because, "I feel them, anyway."  She described a time when she couldn't shake the feeling that "someone or something" was watching her in their house.  When her kids said they were going to change their plans to stay with her, she sent them on their way.  No, she told them.  She was fine.  Nothing was wrong.  Go out.  Go on!  Have some fun.  She'll be fine, she said.  
When they left, she sat on the couch, turned on the TV and gathered up her dog, holding it while she told herself that she was fine.  Everything was just fine.  Nothing to worry about.  She was...  Just...  Fine. 
Maybe if she had turned the sound to mute and tried to get some sleep, it would have worked even better. 


Post a Comment

<< Home