Thoughts & Insights

The World in Your Head

Since Plato at the latest, we have been asking ourselves what we actually see when we look at things that are of this world. Which of the things that make up our image of the world exist independently of what we actively perceive; that is when we are awake? And what happens when we are sleeping?

Our understanding of the world is formed over the course of our lives. It does not begin with visual impressions, but rather with acoustic ones of this world, as the outside world. Because the first thing we perceive are the noises, sounds and voices of our environment, which we – still unborn – begin to perceive, from a certain stage of development of our hearing in the womb, and pass on to our brain.

This outside world visibly expands with each day, month and year of our lives. But it always remains an outside world. We are in a state of permanent exchange with it as long as we live. As we develop ourselves, so does our image of the world. It changes and expands – depending on what we do, what we experience and what we have to deal with. The time in our lives during which all this takes place is the time we spend in the waking state. At least that’s what we think. And what we perceive and experience in the waking state is what we consider to be the world. We assume a congruence between how we (want to) see the world and the world itself, based on our sensory perception while we are awake.

But during this time of wakefulness, only a part of our image of the world is created. The part of which we are – more or less – conscious. But there is also an unconscious image of the world, of ourselves, and of what we call life. It arises both during times of life when we are awake and during the time we spend sleeping – that is an average of 6-8 hours per day. So, we spend about one third of our lives sleeping. A person who is 60 years old has therefore “slept through” 20 years of his life. Was he not alive during those 20 years? Bob Dylan sings: “Sleep is like a temporary death”.

Sleep is a state of powerlessness. It comes upon us. We can keep our body awake for a while, even when we are tired. But at some point, sleep overtakes us and puts us in this state of powerlessness – whether we want it or not. But we are still alive, of course, because our brain stays awake. It not only maintains all bodily functions; it even organizes their regeneration. And it creates new worlds.

It rehashes all we have ever seen, experienced, felt or thought while awake. And that is not all, by any means! Associations with which we are already familiar, spontaneously pop up every now and then in our waking state, as amazing links of independently arising thoughts or experiences that can drive our brain into the wildest associations while we are asleep; uncontrollable fantasies, the effects of which can sometimes be as exhilarating as they are depressing on our next waking state, regardless of whether or not we can remember exactly what we experienced while asleep. “The real adventures are in the head. And if they’re not in the head, they’re nowhere” sings Andre Heller. That makes it sound as if our inner world is the actual, real, true world, to which the outer world merely serves as an inspiring background image.

In sleep, we experience the world all over again, in a completely new way. In this inner world, the boundaries of space and time are suspended. Wildly and freely, we skip through entire eras there, as we link surreal images and events with real people or events. When we wake up, we can usually only remember fragments, if anything at all. They are mere fragments of dreams, but they give us an idea of how awake and active our brain was while we were asleep.

Even what we cannot consciously remember participates in the development of our image of the world, thus making it part of the world in which we live at the same time. Nothing is ever really forgotten. The fact that we cannot remember does not mean that something has been forgotten. I will never forget a ten-year-old girl’s comment when, upon seeing one of OUBEY’s pictures, spontaneously exclaimed that the picture “reminded her of something she had never seen before”. Perhaps she had seen something similar before – in her sleep?

The third of our lives that we spend asleep is just as much a part of our lives as the two-thirds that we experience awake. The fact that we are mostly unaware of it does not change the fact. And I would dare to surmise that people who are capable of creating what is referred to as art, develop a particularly intense and close connection, not only to the outside world they experience consciously, but also to what they experience unconsciously – while they are awake and also while they are asleep and dreaming. Both the terrible nightmares and the free-flying daydreams.

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