If it is true that the ability to be puzzled is the beginning of wisdom, then this truth is a sad commentary on the wisdom of modern man. Whatever the merits of our high degree of literary and universal education, we have lost the gift for being puzzled.

Everything is supposed to be known — if not to ourselves then to some specialist whose business it is to know what we do not know. In fact, to be puzzled is embarrassing, a sign of intellectual inferiority. Even children are rarely surprised, or at least they try not to show that they are; and as we grow older we gradually lose the ability to be surprised. To have the right answers seems all-important; to ask the right questions is considered insignificant by comparison.

This attitude is perhaps one reason why one of the most puzzling phenomena in our lives, our dreams, gives so little cause for wonder and for raising questions. We all dream; we do not understand our dreams, yet we act as if nothing strange goes on in our sleep minds, strange at least by comparison with the logical purposeful doings of our minds when we are awake.

When we are awake, we are active, rational beings, eager to make an effort to get what we want and prepared to defend ourselves against attack. We act and we observe; we see things outside, perhaps not as they are, but at least in such a manner that we can use and manipulate them. But we are also rather unimaginative, and rarely — except as children or if we are poets — does our imagination go beyond duplicating the stories and plots that are part of our actual experience. We are effective but somewhat dull. We call the field of our daytime observation “reality” and are proud of our “realism” and our cleverness in manipulating it.

When we are asleep, we awake to another form of existence. We dream. We invent stories which never happened and sometimes for which there is not even any precedent in reality. Sometimes we are the hero, sometimes the villain; sometimes we see the most beautiful scenes and are happy; often we are thrown into extreme terror. But whatever the role we play in the dream we are the author, it is our dream, we have invented the plot.

Indeed, both dreams and myths are important communications from ourselves to ourselves. If we do not understand the language in which they are written, we miss a great deal of what we know and tell ourselves in those hours when we are not busy manipulating the outside world.

Erich Fromm – The Forgotten Language. An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams Fairy Tales and Myths


Published by Diogenes

Can solipsism be discussed?