A dream

I dream quite a lot, but usually the only ones I remember are those I have just before I awake.

I just had one of these, and it was quite vivid. I was staying in a house with Christopher Hitchens, and we were sharing a bedroom. On his bedside table were two travel books; one, which I opened, was on the South Pacific. He had highlighted it with blue magic marker (something I do with some of my books), but instead of highlighting entire sentences as wholes, he highlighted each word of a sentence separately. I thought this odd since each highlighted sentence comprised a group of separately-blued words.

Hitchens also told me a story of a lecture by E. O. Wilson he attended.  He said, peevishly, “Oh, the old git was terribly boring: the only virtue of being there was that we were all given delicious, granular green apples to eat.” [Yes, that’s the phrase he used.] “But then the fire marshal came in and told us that we all had to leave on the grounds that there were too many green apples in the room, which was the only reason for being there in the first place!”

What does this mean?


  1. Duncan
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    The effects of cheese before bedtime can be really cool?!

    • Dominic
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      Yes – what is the research on that? I will have a look…

      • Dominic
        Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:56 am | Permalink

        Earliest evidence for cheese making…
        Cheese Gives you Nightmares: Old Hags and Heartburn -Folklore Volume 114, Issue 2, 2003

        Nature 408, 523 (30 November 2000) doi:10.1038/35046170 What dreams may come? – The scientific benefits of eating cheese before bedtime. Paolo Mazzarello1o

        Mybe Clauiceps purpurea – ergot?

        I give up!

        • daveau
          Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

          Blessed are the cheesemakers…

          • Gordon
            Posted December 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            The old mental home near Dunedin now occupied by various things (at least last time I went)
            had signs for => Jesus and => Cheeses.
            The latter were very tasty

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:54 am | Permalink

      My first thought!


    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      For me, it seems to be fruit (or, fruit juice) just before bed.

      Fantastic, detailed dreams.

      All anecdotal, btw.

    Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink


    • Diane G.
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Permalink


  3. Dominic
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    At some point possibly yesterday but at least in the last week, you thought about Christopher Hitchens, green apples, you used a blue marker as is your wont, & you thought about E.O.Wilson.
    That is all.
    There is no more meaning in a dream than there is in life.

  4. Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    Perhaps you have been part of a forbidden fruit core group?

  5. Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Hmm… Coyne & Hitchens as Morecambe & Wise… 😮


    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      Or Jesus & Mo… 😉

  6. Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    I suspect that Jerry Coyne – like Christopher Hitchens – had some kind of religiosity in his formative years.
    Tree of Knowledge !?

    At any rate, it´s a lovely dream. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  7. Genghis
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    Quite simply, there is a god and Jerry’s going to hell.

    • js
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      An cool, cause I,m certainly going there too.

  8. harrystarkus
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I wonder? The separately highlighted words are interesting. Could it reflect Hitchens’ craft as a word smith, for whom each individual word and their placement was important.

    Maybe tonight if you reenter that dream you can ask him about it?

    Could it become a recurring dream? I always loved Mark Twains line on recurring dreams ..

    “A dream that comes only once is oftenest only an idle accident, and hasn’t any message, but the recurrent dream is quite another matter–oftener than not it has come on business.”

    Thank you for sharing your dream with us. We tread softly because we tread on your dreams 😉

    • Dominic
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      Yet the dream is the product of the dreamer not the dreamt of. If the placement of the words is significant, which it is not, it emanates from Jerry’s perception.

      By the way, if any of you have read Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman, you may recall he spent a while working on lucid dreaming, & tried to get to the bottom of his dreams, but gave up.

      • harrystarkus
        Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

        Thanks – will check that book out. My comments on the words etc was pretty much tongue-in-cheek, as I don’t really know much about the psycho analysis of dreams, even though i did it in college many moons ago. It always seemed to be a bit creative to me and very loose.
        But hope I don’t offend anyone in that field, because that comment really comes out of ignorance.
        Thanks for the book reference – sounds fascinating

  9. Kevin Anthoney
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    Clearly, the lecture hall is Heaven, the fire marshall is God, and the granular green apples represent all the enjoyable things in life, which are obviously sinful and not allowed in Heaven. So Hitchens is telling you, via a dream, that he’s been turfed out of Heaven for enjoying himself too much.

    Good man!

  10. Miles_Teg
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    “What does this mean?”

    That you’re about to become a fundamentalist YEC Christian.

  11. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Hitchens’ 1st anniversary [Saturday] is on your mind?

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Has it been a year already?!

      Perhaps I’ll bust out some JWB.

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

      Seems very likely. Good point.

  12. Christopher
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    You should make Apple Pie this Xmas. Yum.

    • lizwinfreyventura
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink


  13. JohnC
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    “What does this mean?”


    (Read Foucault on the cultural construction of dream interpretation, vol 2 or 3 of The History of Sexuality)

    • TJR
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      At least the dream didn’t involve lots of bananas, carrots and cucumbers.

      Although if it had, I bet he wouldn’t have mentioned it.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Why would anyone read Foucault on anything? Seriously?

      • JohnC
        Posted December 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        For some people, to understand why he is the most cited scholar in the humanities.

  14. Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Sometimes an apple is just an apple.

  15. tsbardella
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    That dream means that you were asleep.

  16. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Means I should recommend “the chemistry of conscious states” by J. Allan Hobson

    I think it is interesting that we generate speech in dreams to match the speaker, and apparently in real time.

  17. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Blue highlighting? How awful!

  18. JBlilie
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Hilarious, thanks for that!

  19. Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    The interpretation of this dream depends entirely on what you think of Hitchens. If you adore him as so many do, then this sounds like a fun boy-romp without much deeper meaning. If, on the other hand, you see him as a drunken blowhard Oxbridge pseudointellectual, then your dream was in fact a nightmare. The key would be whether you felt sad or relieved to find yourself awake this morning.

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      I’ve often found that such dismissers tend to be those who cannot write as well, drunk or sober. Having said that, the dream’s the thing, wherein we find the conscience of the evolutionary biologist!

  20. gravelinspector
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    “One man’s cheese is another man’s rotten milk.” (Larry Niven, through the character of Louis Wu.)

  21. michieux
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I feel a song coming on…

  22. Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I have a dream….


  23. Vidar
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    According to http://machall.com/view.php?date=2001-04-30 , you should probably not let Freud interpret your dreams.

  24. lizwinfreyventura
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I think this all depends on what type of green apples these were…

    Are you using the Dream: ON app? I’ve started using it lately and boy have I had some super interesting dreams the last week or so.

  25. Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I have no idea what your dream meant but E.O. Wilson is speaking at the NC Museum of Natural Science today.

    If he mentions apples, I’ll let you know.

    The talk is live streaming and apparently geared toward high schoolers sign up to watch here: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4635234110?utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=event_reminder&utm_term=event_title#

  26. Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Dreams ALWAYS mean you’re going to have a bad harvest.

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Well, after 7 years of good harvests, anyway.

  27. Christopher
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Your dream brings up two points that Hitchens made repeatedly. One, that he made his living by language. Every word matters. It’s interesting the number of times I heard him correct a small point of word choice. So, highlighting the words individually seems consistent. Second, I remember how he said in God is not Great, “The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey”. Green apples provided but found to be a danger according to rules unbeknownst to the people, sounds consistent with something that would really irk him. I mean, yeah, E.O. Wilson was slightly boring, but this last trivial point would have irked him. I’m surprised he didn’t start going off on Kim Jong-il in your dream at that point.

  28. Bob Carlson
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    What does this mean?

    It means that the fire marshal was concerned about the possibility that E.O. Wilson would be getting in on with Granny Smith.

  29. starskeptic
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    “…the only ones I remember are those I have just before I awake.”

    In the early 1980’s, Francis Crick gave a lecture at Northern Illinois on neural nets which included a great deal of discussion on dreaming. He likened waking a subject during REM sleep as “throwing a car in reverse while driving” – the images reported were chaotic and essentially meaningless. Only when consciousness gradually seeps in and starts assigning shapes to things do we end up with enough of a story to worry about interpretation.
    Also from Crick:
    “Christianity may be OK between consenting adults in private but should not be taught to young children.”

  30. neil344
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    The sleeping mind weaves random thoughts and images together into a narrative and when we awake we wonder what it means. What scares me is the thought that the awake mind might be doing the same thing.

    • starskeptic
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I think you’re more right than you realize…

  31. Posted December 13, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    As any experienced shrink will tell you, the most important thing about the telling of a dream is who you tell it to and what you tell them. (Usually there is much more to a dream than we tell others, we edit in the telling, for various reasons.)Also, we are all the people in our dreams — or whoever appears in our dreams is really an avatar of the dreamer. Now, you tell yourself what the dream means and the telling of it on your blog? What are you trying to tell those who will read it?

  32. RFW
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    “What does this mean?”

    No one can say except you, JAC.

    As you probably know, Carl Jung was big on dream analysis, but his p.o.v. was that only the dreamer can determine the significance of dreams. No looking them up in a dream book and getting a canned interpretation, iow.

    So tell us, what does your dream mean to you? If anything, that is.

    PS #1: Are you aware that there are a number of books about Simon’s cat on the market?

    PS #2: Are you aware of that immortal tome published by Workman Publishing, “Bad Cat”?

    PS #3: Jung oversaw a popularization of his ideas, “Man and His Symbols”, a good place to start learning what he thought. Jung is largely disregarded these days, and his theory of archetypes is highly suspect, but I wonder if the problem is that he interpreted them as “racial memory” instead of contemplating what archetypical symbolism and imagery says about the organization of the human brain.

  33. theshortearedowl
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    The apples represent knowledge. Hitchens (perhaps representing your critical side?) may have been complaining about Wilson’s speech, but nevertheless appreciated the nuggets of information gleaned. The fire marshall represents authority, who of course are threatened by the distribution of knowledge.

    And you should visit the South Pacific. Maybe New Caledonia?

    • H.H.
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      I like your analysis.

      I looked up the significance of colors in dreams (mostly for the lolz) and green typically is associated with growth and healing while blue is usually associated with knowledge and learning.

  34. Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Perhaps you are recognizing a tendency to over analyze meta information about life, while real knowledge seems to be forbidden or taken from you even in the places you expect to gain that information. Or, some aspects of life are mostly boring except for the information you gain, yet lately even that is forbidden to you.

    Or something like that. What do green apples mean to you?

  35. eveysolara
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    It means you miss Wilson and Hitchens. I dreamed last night that my cousin was using my name and SS# and references to get a job as a director of an it dept. I was furious at first, but eventually told her it was ok. I woke up emotionally drained, not sure why our brains do that to us.

  36. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Dreams are low-energy-expended rehearsals for possible important events in the future.

    In prehistoric times, hunting was the ne plus ultra. Probably, all of ones dreams were about seeking game, hunting companions, dangerous predators….oh, yeah, and procreation!!

    One had to rehearse, and not use up too much food consumed, doing it. Remember our little owl, practicing over and over?? Low-energy practice, because, if one succeeded or failed in your one attack upon prey in real time, after many hungry days of searching, it might be a matter of life and death.

    • cyan
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      A just-so story, or is there evidence?

      And some inferences from it:

      So females either don’t dream or had the same roles as men in prehistory? And non-predatory animals do not dream?

      • Old Rasputin
        Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Almost undoubtedly a just-so story. Personally, I see no reason that dreaming need be adaptive to be sufficiently explained. I would guess it to be a side effect of having a complicated brain that never entirely shuts off.

        However, it /could/ be adaptive. It could have evolved in a remote ancestor and have radiated out to all, say, mammals, or whatever group. The theory about low-energy rehearsal could apply just as easily to prey reacting to and fleeing predators, rehearsing the shortest escape routes to their hole/tree/whatever from any given point in their territory (it seems many little critters have these worked out quite well).

        And regardless of whether it was originally adaptive for prey or predator behaviour (or something else), something that is beneficial for one sex but not the other won’t necessarily disappear from the the latter unless its effects are somehow deleterious, and even then, not necessarily. If women who dream give birth to sons who dream…

        I will also add that there does seem to be real benefit in mentally rehearsing something. I don’t know if there has been any real research into it or not (surly there has?), but musicians, golfers and probably a variety of others are eager to attest to this, however anecdotally.
        Once again, my own opinion is that dreaming is not likely to be adaptive at all. But who knows?

  37. Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Dreams (Imho) are your mind defragging to more efficiently store and access memories. In the process memories (even old ones) must be moved or reactivated to connect them up.

    Why these memories? Who knows.

    • starskeptic
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Actually, dreams are your consciousness infringing on the defragging…

  38. js
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    My cats appear to dream.
    Their little mouths twitch as do their legs.
    I think they are dreaming of chasing a mouse and nomming it.
    I like to make squeak squeak noises when they do.

    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Try some strategic tickling.


    • Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Dogs dream also, or at least bark & whine & run & twitch in their sleep.There has been some research on animal sleep — predators do exhibit REM sleep. The sleep patterns of prey seem to be more shallow than those of predators. The adaptive advantage of that — prey dare not sleep as soundly as those who might attack them.

  39. Dale
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    “At dawn my lover comes to me
    and tells me of her dream
    with no attempts
    to shovel a glimpse
    into the ditch
    of what each one means.

    At times I think
    there are no words
    but these
    to tell what’s true

    There are no truths
    the gates of Eden”

    Bob Dylan

  40. Roo
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Well, if nothing else, a dream like that points to the fact that Christopher’s memory continues to exist fully in your consciousness. I know the anniversary of his death is coming up – I’m terrible at this kind of thing, but I really do hope you’re doing well. I say terrible because it always seems as if there’s nothing to say, really – a loss is a loss, it’s sad and regrettable, and there aren’t really words to change that. But I hope you’re doing well.

  41. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Let me get this straight – you, Jerry Coyne, want us, the denizens of this notablog, to psychoanalyse you? Gosh you’re… brave!

    (Or is this a very subtle experiment like the one the mice carried out on their human experimenters in Doug Adams’ LTUAE – does the interpretation say more about the interpreter than about the dreamer?)

  42. Kevin Meredith
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, if you were telling me of this dream in person, I’d ask if you were concerned that Hitchens’ legacy was beginning to fade, on the theory that the separately-highlighted blue words represented the disassembling of his efforts. Perhaps there’s also some concern that you’re not doing enough to maintain or further Hitchen’s legacy, since you were a fellow traveler but couldn’t help him keep the sentences whole.

    On the paradox of the fire marshal and the granular (Granny Smith?) green apples, it’s a representation of the conundrum of sophisticated theology, perhaps, where people create such logical houses of cards eventually they end up destroying their own arguments.

    Just guesses, two of hundreds. When you hear the right guess, you typically know it instantly and viscerally.

    I’d be interested in knowing what the South Pacific means to you. A beautiful place? Shark-infested waters? Impoverished, superstitious islanders?

  43. Posted December 15, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Too many green apples prior to bedtime!

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