How Media Is Like A Dream

Chathurika Jayani, Dreamscape 15, 2021

Media is not a window onto the world. It’s a window into the machine dream world, a system of material production pumping out industrialized information into every sensory organ. All of our media—including news—are just carefully engineered dreams. They’re either completely manufactured hallucinations (like dramas) or selectively edited perceptions (like news). We get confused because they look so real, but we also get confused by dreams every night. Waking or sleeping, in truth, we are always dreaming.

In both cases, the evidence is right in front of your eyes or, more specifically, it isn’t. When we’re dreaming, our eyes are closed but it still feels like we’re seeing. The brain manufactures an entirely believable experience from whole cloth, complete with sights, sounds, orgasms, and even wetting yourself. When we’re awake, our eyes are open, but we’re really just dreaming. Images on our retina while speakers play our eardrums. Instead of your brain running the simulation, some electronics and distant servers do, and a few perceptual tricks fill in the rest. It’s dreaming at a distance.

It’s all the same phenomenon really, dreaming between your skull alone or pulling out your phone to dream together. Indeed, the experience is much the same. Just think about the edits on any TV program and random movements you get within a dream. We think that media simulates the real world, but in its frenetic movements and instant scene changes, it really simulates a dream.

In the dream world, I never know how I got anywhere, I’m just there. I flit from scene to scene, limited only by my subconscious attention span. There’s no waiting for trains or long introductions or boredom. So it is with manufactured media. The camera just flits from person to person, shot to shot. The camera moves like our restless subconscious, in an inherently dreamlike hurry and forgetfulness. That’s why TV is so captivating. It’s a waking dream.

The great wonder of our perceptual system is that it can be so easily tricked.We think that we’re just perceiving the world with our eyes and ears, but we’re not, we’re constantly creating it. We take a bunch of paint and lights and make it into a traffic system that enables us to drive past each other at 100km an hour. We take a bunch of sounds and make them into a language. We take a bunch of pictures and move them quickly enough that it looks real.

Our brain is designed to completely hallucinate reality at least two hours a night and with our throats and thumbs we have figured out how to extend that hallucination into times when we are nominally waking. You can see this most obviously in children, for whom the line between imagining and perceiving doesn’t exist. When you play peek-a-boo, you really are gone. And when you say boo, you magically reappear.

Children love and demand stories before bed, that liminal space between waking and dreaming. My children go to this in-between place every night. It’s very real to them. They believe in the tooth fairy, they believe in their stuffed animals, in the souls of animals, in the stories they hear at night. We stop believing in our imaginations as adults, but the children are right.