If I promise not to tell you the story of my dream, will you promise to read about it? Stay with me, here. Why are other people’s dreams invariably so boring? They constitute the most intimate glimpse of the interiority of another person, and yet we would rather chew off our own sleeves than hear about them.
I will make it brief, then. In my dream of the other morning, I had joined the army, for some reason, and a soldier was assigned to show me around an enormous barracks. That soldier was a girl I had known in college, named Lyn.
Lyn has been dead for ten years. I had not thought of her from then until yesterday. We were not close. There was nothing unsettled between us. She had simply arrived to induct me into the army of the dead.
All that morning, I was unnerved. Like many hard-minded, skeptical people, I am superstitious. Superstitiousness has nothing to do with the quality of your brain or the clarity of your thought; it is implanted in you as a child, and if it takes root, there is nothing for it. The best you can do is act as if you did not notice that you walked under a ladder, or that you just left a penny lying on the ground. Superstitiousness, on that lowest level, has no truck with belief. That is why it disturbed me that a dead woman, a person I barely remembered, stepped out of the past to escort me through a huge, unfamiliar place, another world. I do not believe in omens, and yet I had seen one.
How did I come to understand this, later on? By triangulation, and by my browser history. In the morning, I could see that the last thing I had been trying to look up – before I fell asleep with the iPad lying next to me – was “tsubotsubo.” That is to say, actually – takotsubo myopathy, or broken heart syndrome. Just before I managed to sleep, around 1 am, my last thought was: I wonder if I could die of that thing that gives you a heart defect so that you actually die of a broken heart.
Lyn died of a heart defect. That was all that I knew. That was all that my brain needed to present me with an anxiety dream. Somewhere in the memory palace of the medial temporal lobe, the concept of “heart defect” was cross-indexed with Lyn; the self unseen looked up “heart defect,” and produced her. And her image was juxtaposed with the image of joining – of joining with her in what she did, i.e. have a heart defect, and die.
The idea of an artificial human-level intelligence, or of “uploading” a personality, becomes increasingly more unbelievable to me. The inexplicability, the ungovernability, the layers of a single unremarkable human brain – with what chaos and what symmetry can we reproduce it?