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William Burroughs On How Our Dreams Prepare Us For Space Travel


In this conference the writer strings together separate theories in order to postulate dreams as biological designs that prepare us for journeys through.

“I find that sometimes I’m able to control my dreams and sometimes I’m able to direct myself before going to sleep to dream about a certain subject. And… sometimes not,” states William Burroughs during a lecture he gave in Naropa University in 1980. The author explores interesting and potentially transcendental issues surrounding the realm of dreams. He states that he was able to experience lucid dreams with the advice of Don Juan Matus, Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, who believed that the most important thing is to look at your hands during a dream; consciously focusing on observing them will enable you to realise that you are dreaming and you will “wake up in your dream”.

Burroughs, evidently fascinated by lucid dreaming, speaks of an experiment where researchers deprived their subjects of sleep and realised that, if done for long periods of time, the volunteers would die. They understood that dreams (and not merely sleep) are a biological necessity. Parting from this idea, Burroughs quotes Timothy Leary by saying that the following step, after having lucid dreams, is going to space. According to the author, if the human body is too dense for the conditions of outer space, we have a more fitting and weightless model: our astral body. “I think that the purpose of dreams is to prepare us for space and this is why they are a biological necessity. Whether the dream body is able to exist separately from the physical one, that is something that needs to be studied”, he asserts.

After this, and perhaps the most poetic aspect of his conference, Burroughs reminds us of the English engineer, John Dunne, who discovered that dreams contain references of the future the dreamer will experience (Dunne published his findings in An Experiment with Time, 1924). The engineer stressed that certain references in a dream could not be traced back to the event but to the moment the subject learns of the event. For example, when we dream of an earthquake or a fire, we are not dreaming of the event but the moment when we realize it has happened, usually through a photograph in the newspaper or a newscast. In other words, we dream of our future timeline. It’s like dreaming with someone and then running into them: a premonition.

What Burroughs suggests is that the dream is biologically designed to prepare us, for many things, including space. Just like there are theories that suggest that babies are unable to feed themselves and walk until they have had enough dreams, adults could be trained for space. So, being able to “wake up in our dreams” or to direct them towards that point, is one of the forms of evolution that allow us to explore what our body prevents us from doing.

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