Ask The Experts #1: Invention

"We can only dream of faces we've seen in the past, whether we actively remember them or not. The brain cannot invent these."

Do you agree with this quote? - From Caspi

Rebecca Turner

Rebecca Turner: Well I think this quote is interpretive. On the one hand, yes your brain can "invent" a new face, for instance by mashing different features of different people together. Or by making the features preposterous: adding a giant mole, changing the eye color to purple, and so on. Or let's go all-out: ten eyes down the left, eleven eyes down the right, a giant nose and a mouth coming out of the nostril. I'm confident I've never seen that guy before.

On the other hand, our dreams are drawn from real world experiences and unconscious interpretations. Even our imagination, in dreams and in waking life, is based on our attempts to thrust remembered images into new realms.

Melting Clocks by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali, perhaps the most famous surrealist painter, conjured up elephants with thin stilt-like legs and melting clocks. Despite this remarkable creative expression, we have to admit that elephants and clocks are not light years away from our own reality. Even our imagination is based on concepts derived from the waking world.

To illustrate this limitation within the dreamspace: congenitally blind people do not dream visually as way we do, because they don't have a visual palette from which to "paint" their dreams. Instead they dream as they "see" the world, through their other senses. It's not possible for them to visually dream new faces, because they've never seen any before.

So I think what the author was trying to say is that our imaginations, however spectacular, are still limited to our realm of experience. Thus our dreams, too, are mental extensions of our waking experiences.

Perhaps the analogy of dream faces was not the best choice to illustrate the point, because faces are made up of composite features. It's not hard to imagine drawing different features from our memories and then creating a new face with mix-and-match techniques.

However they are making a fundamental point about the nature of creativity. Is it really possible to have an original thought? To bring this home, perhaps the quote could be improved to say:

"We can only dream of colors we've seen in the past, whether we actively remember them or not. The brain cannot invent these."


Daniel Love

Daniel Love: This is a fascinating question, one that brings up many ideas regarding human creativity and the limitations of our mind. To answer this, I feel the best approach in exploring this idea, is to step away from the concept of dreaming, as due to the internal and subjective nature of dreams, we'll find ourselves limited in our options to test this concept. Instead, let's reframe this statement in another common, but more visible area of human creativity, namely art.

Head of a Woman by Pable Picasso

So, reworded, let's take another look: "An artist can only paint faces she has seen in the past, whether she actively remembers them or not. The brain cannot invent these."

I feel, once seen in this light, the answer becomes somewhat more apparent. It also enters a realm in which we can systematically test this hypothesis.

On the surface of things, we can probably all agree that the creative processes used in the birth of a new painting are not limited to mere reproductions of that which has already been experienced by the artist. The art world is littered with creative and original work, often depicting scenes (including faces), where it is apparent no previous experience is possible.

We may then argue that original artwork is derivative, a clever blending of memories merged together to form something akin to a collage of thoughts; new in arrangement but not in elements. This may then raise further questions about the definition of the word "original", what is it that we consider truly new?

So, to answer the original question: No, I do not agree with the quote. I feel that creativity is a fundamental function of the human mind.  Dreaming, like art, is a creative process. The crux of this question is how we define the concept of original.

My answer to this would be:  yes, the human mind is limited to the palette of memories which it has collected over a lifespan, however, we are not bound by the limitation of exact reproduction of these memories.

Instead, be it dreams or waking creativity, our minds are able to play with concepts, rearrange, exaggerate, merge and invent. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it is our inherent creativity and ability to dream up original ideas that defines us as a species and drives us ever forward.

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Ask The Experts: Daniel Love and Rebecca Turner

In Ask The Experts, readers have the opportunity to probe the minds of long time lucid dreamers, Daniel Love and Rebecca Turner. With a combined 40 years of lucid dreaming experience, they aim to candidly answer your lucidity questions on demand.

Note: The opinions expressed here are our own, based on our scientific understanding of consciousness exploration. The pursuit of lucid dreaming often leads to personal interpretations, with which you may or may not agree, but we hope to unveil the most objective and best-fitting explanations available. We hope you find this segment to be informative, educational and inspirational for your dream life.

About The Author

About the author

Rebecca Turner is the founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a science degree in Auckland and becoming famous as a science writer. Try our free lucid dreaming course and connect with the team on Facebook and the lucid dream forum.