I had a dream today. . .

I usually forget my dreams, as I have them in the middle of the night. If I wake up and try to embed them in my memory, they’re gone by morning. (I think I should keep a notebook by my bed.) But if I have a dream right before I wake up, then I often remember it.  Here’s one I had this morning in the half-hour interval between when I awoke at 4 a.m. nabbed a snooze, and then woke up for good at 4:30.

I was in graduate school studying ecology with two other students, a man and a woman, under a woman professor. The classroom was on a dock by the sea, in a small white and windowless room.  At one point the professor told us that we had to take our final exam, but in a white lighthouse located at the far end of the dock.  As I was collecting my materials for the test, I picked up a toothbrush, and the professor told me, “You won’t need that.” I threw the toothbrush back with my belongings, but then picked up a hand puppet that was in the form of Steven Pinker, but with reddish hair.

For some reason this puppet could also sing (presumably via some electronic device inside it), and I demonstrated that feature in the lighthouse. The singing of Pinker Puppet was surprisingly good, and I remarked about this to the professor and other students. The professor said, “That’s nothing—you should hear his brother sing “Heartbreak.” [Pinker doesn’t have a brother.]  Then, as I was about to take the test, I realized I hadn’t studied all semester, and knew almost nothing about ecology. [This is true.] I then woke up with moderate anxiety.

At the end this was a variant of the standard Academic Anxiety Dream which many students and professors have (my Ph.D. adviser Dick Lewontin had it almost every night). The Pinker reference is obviously the “day’s residue”, as Freud put it, from having read some of Steve’s book Enlightenment Now before bed. But as for the puppet, the singing, the nonexistent song, and Pinker’s red hair and nonexistent brother, well, that’s probably my neurons firing randomly.

If you had a weird dream last night, or want to interpret mine, weigh in below.


UPDATE: Reader Miranda found an early picture of Pinker, lacking his signature Jewfro, from a 2011 New York Times profile by Carl Zimmer:

(From the NYT): BEFORE THE PH.D. Steven Pinker in 1971 with fellow Wagar High School students on a Canadian television quiz show.





  1. Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    You’re going to have a bad harvest. Isn’t that what all dreams mean?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Because a witch has but a hex on you.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    (I think I should keep a notebook by my bed.)

    That’s how Keith came up with those famous fuzzy opening riffs of “Satisfaction,” except he kept a tape-recorder on the nightstand.

    • Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Louis Armstrong often told the story about his dream of composing an entire musical comedy. When he woke up, the only song he remembered was “Someday You’ll Be Sorry”. We should be grateful he remembered that:

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Louie Armstrong was the first American musician to tour behind the Iron Curtain. When he got back, reporters asked him what he thought of the people there. Said Pops, “cats is cats, anywhere you go.”

        I love that quote.

  3. Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I think you should sell this to Stephen King. Joking aside, I truly believe that many of his books were born in an odd dream.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    J. Allan Hobson has interesting educated-general-audience publications on dreams such as

    The Chemistry Of Conscious States

    … good starting point.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    The crazy thing about this kind of dream is there that no ending arrives. The main subject of the dream would be the need to take a test and suddenly you realize that you are not prepared to take it, you know nothing. So really it is a nightmare kind of dream but it usually ends about there. You never actually take the test or know the outcome. It is like the falling dreams where you never hit the ground.

  6. drakodoc
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Invited to a white lighthouse by your professor, you won’t need you toothbrush but go ahead and bring the singing hand puppet, whose sibling sings “Heartbrake”…wonderful and vivid dream! I most respectfully point out that it would be easy to make a Freudian leap with that imagery.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Pffft! It’s just your standard white-lighthouse-at-the-end-of-the-dock-toothbrush-&-redheadeded-singing-Pinker-puppet dream. Everyone has those, no? 🙂

      • een
        Posted March 8, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Sounds to me like a fish dream.

  7. Merilee
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink


  8. Liz
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I had a weird dream last night. It was actually this morning after I woke up and saw the text that I have a delayed opening due to the winter storm here. I was helping Sean Carroll classify birds. It was on a campus that was unfamiliar to me but it was out here in CA. Sean Carroll was mildly distressed because he really wanted to just have it figured out, sort of like quantum gravity, but it was difficult. I had a very hopeful attitude that it would be figured out eventually. Then I was in a different part of the school, like a street with shops, and my little sister was there. I started to become concerned because there were a lot of vultures coming in that I didn’t know how to classify. She wanted to go hang out and didn’t really care about classifying the birds. I know why I had the dream. I’ve been watching the birds more recently. I was also asking questions on here yesterday and was then looking up taxonomy and phylogeny. I also have an interest in some of the things Seth Lloyd talks about with the birds so maybe that’s why there was the physics also.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Might your dream-brain be confusing Sean M. Carroll [theoretical physicist] with Sean B. Carroll [molecular biologist]? The latter wrote an excellent EvoDevo book ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL a dozen years ago. A good read, he has another six books, but I’ve not read those.

      • Liz
        Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        It was definitely Sean M. Carroll. I’m familiar with Sean B. Carroll and I also have a cousin Sean Carroll. Sean E. Carroll. There was more to the dream than what I could recall later, but I do remember in the morning when recalling to myself that it was “fast” to have a dream about something so recent. As a freshman in college I started to notice that it usually takes about 2 – 3 months of living somewhere new or meeting new people for those things to appear in dreams. But then in real life the power went out and I forgot specifically what it was. It was something more specific with plants. Anyway, I’ve had several other dreams with birds recently. That looks like a good book by Sean B. Carroll.

  9. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    when I awoke at 4 a.m. nabbed a snooze, and then woke up for good at 4:30.

    Don’t I remember you admonishing us not to do that?

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    The other night I had a dream that I was with a group of people who told me they were going to cut my face for some reason. I kept thinking, “I don’t want to have cuts on my face” & I was trying to think of a way to get out of there without them noticing. I got the feeling that I was sort of a prisoner among these people but not exactly. Strangely enough, Canadian actor and professor, Michael Greyeyes was in the dream but just kind of in the background. I think we were all near some dark area by a dock.

  11. Neil Wolfe
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    My dreams are usually realistic and boring so I’m glad I sleep through them. I’ve actually had dreams about building the woodshed I had been planning, plowing snow, and making a sandwich. I guess I can say that I really am “living the dream”.

    • Posted March 8, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I get those too. One was where the alarm went off, I slowly get up and get ready for work. Thinking about the drive and what I was going to do that day and so on. The experience was completely real and natural.
      Then the alarm went off for real and I woke up again. It was very confusing for a time.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 8, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        I’ve had dreams within dreams within dreams. I hate that.

        • Neil Wolfe
          Posted March 8, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Oh crap, now I’m not sure if I’m awake or not…

        • Posted March 8, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t that called “Inception”?

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I have what you’ve termed “the standard Academic Anxiety Dream” every time I’m gearing up for a trial: I’m near the end of “reading week” before finals in my last semester; I realize I signed up for a class, and I need the credits to graduate, but I never bought the book and never went to class. I’m running around trying find the casebook at the bookstore, trying to get a study guide, trying to borrow notes — anything to pass the test.

    When I was actually in law school studying for finals, I used to have the restaurant-workers’ version of this dream: you’re “in the weeds” looking out at a full dining room, and you don’t know which station or tables are yours, or what anybody’s ordered to eat or drink. I still get that one once in a while, too, especially before a trial.

  13. Peter Nonacs
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I used to have the same kind of dream. Usually it was about needing to take a final in a foreign language class I neglected to ever go to. But it reversed when I became the Professor. Now my dream is that I have been assigned to teach a class and somehow have forgotten all about it. On the last day of the semester, I am reminded. I rush to the classroom and find it full of students. They have come every day, and waited the entire hour for me to show up. Now they are very, very mad. I have one hour to teach the entire course. At this point, I wake up…

  14. XCellKen
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I had a very interesting dream last night (this morning)But since it involved sex and drugs, I’ll keep the details to myself

  15. Posted March 8, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    For a moment there I was worried you were going to describe how your students turned into mermaids….

  16. Posted March 8, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    My favorite dreams are when I can fly. Just by an act of will, I can float off the ground and over the trees, watching out for power lines. They are wonderful.

    Then I wake up, and it’s pretty disappointing.

    • Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I used to have those dreams when I was younger. I’m glad I don’t have to experience the inevitable disappointment these days 🙂

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      I have this recurrent feature in a dream, that I’m running, and each step takes me further, until I can take a step and glide indefinitely a foot above the ground without actually touching down. If only…

      The opposite of this is when I’m driving and somehow the vehicle morphs into running and I’m trying not to get my feet tangled up. Definitely a downer.


  17. nicky
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I often remember dreams, they are generally completely bonkers, often hallucinating, with persons and backgrounds changing in the blink of an eye (only noticed with hindsight).
    The best ones are those where I can fly or where my deceased beloved ones (my mother, my wife) are back alive and that their deterioration and death was just a mistake, like a wrong interpretation. The latter ones make for a rude awakening, of course.

    • nicky
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      And I won’t bother you with having sex with a lioness, or swimming in a sea of snakes.

  18. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    When I have a lot of migraines in a row, I get night terrors & wake up screaming. Recently, I went through a week of this. I’ve heard from others who get migraines, that they sleep with a light on so they aren’t as disoriented when they wake up screaming since this becomes a regular occurrence as they suffer with migraines daily.

    Other times, I have anxiety dreams where I dream I have a lot of fish tanks that I didn’t know I had and some of them are in really bad shape. The reverse happy dream of that is when I find I have a bunch of fish tanks & they are doing really well.

  19. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Following major surgery, I have really good, really interesting dreams, like good TV shows. I really look forward to escaping the day’s pain and finding out what the latest episode will be. They taper off after a while, though last time it took quite a few months and it was great.

  20. Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I have had VIVID dreams since I was 3 years old. On average, I have 2-4 dreams per night and they all play out as if I were in a movie. Most of my dreams are so real, that I can remember dreams that I had from years ago. It is almost as if they are actual memories. I used to have a blog about my dreams online when I was younger. My friends liked to read it. I’ve dreamed of every single person I’ve ever known and pretty much every single celebrity you can think of (usually I am friends with the celebrity in the dreams)
    Last night’s dream was a nightmare in the first part. I dreamed that I was being attacked by poisonus fish that were swimming in a flooded house. Then they got in my mouth and I had to spit them out before I swallowed them (yes I know that sounds bad, LOL) Next part of the dream, I was hanging out with some friends and one them was playing “Blue Days Black Nights” on his guitar. I was trying to sing along but I was too nervous to remember the lyrics. (I sing, but never in front of anyone) Then I was trying to get home because I wanted to watch a Buddy Holly documentary that was on TV, but I didn’t want to tell my friends why I was in such a rush to leave.
    Jerry, as for your dream, I never analyze other people’s dreams. I believe that the only one with the answers to what a dream means is the person who dreams it.

    • Liz
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      I agree that the person who had the dream is the best to interpret. Sometimes I simply don’t know why I had a dream. My dreams are vivid maybe half of the time or more like there are different degrees of vividness. I don’t usually have celebrities but David Hyde Pierce has been in three very vivid dreams where he comes and tells me that everything is going to be okay. It’s so bizarre and odd. The dream website sounds interesting.

  21. Steve Pollard
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    “…probably my neurons firing randomly”.

    Is that possible with a fully deterministic brain? If it is, might it indicate where new ideas come from (something I’ve struggled to reconcile with strict determinism and the lack of free will)?

    • Posted March 8, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      By “random” I mean “unpredictable” not “absolutely indeterminately.” My neuronal firings when I sleep must obey the laws of physics and are thus, absent quantum effects, deterministic and in principle predictable.

  22. dreamsareus
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    An entertaining documentary on dreaming, made in conjunction with the movie Inception. Includes some sleep and dream scientists.

  23. Posted March 8, 2018 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m a guitar player.

    Every once in a while, I invite Bruce Cockburn over to my house to jam. He always comes over and we play together. And I am sooooo good when we play together … in my dreams …

  24. rickflick
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    My occasional dreams are very often anxiety filled, but not usually terrifying. Two nights ago I dreamed I was conned into investing something like $200,000 of something that turned out to be worthless. I was inexplicably gullible in negotiations which is completely outside my personality, which is conservative with money and skeptical of schemes. I was deeply chagrined after I woke up.
    Just last night I dreamed I was taking off in a small plane(I’m a private pilot) but the plane could not generate enough lift so I made gentle turns to avoid the trees at the end of the runway.
    The actual situation I’m involved with probably explains these frantic adventures. I’m packing to leave for a new home out of state. I have to manipulate investments to close on the new house There is a lot of unknowns to worry about which probably caused the dream-angst.

  25. Posted March 8, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Two nights ago, I dreamed that my husband and I were walking somewhere. My husband picked up the pace, walking rapidly ahead of me, I couldn’t keep up. He disappeared.I was angry with him. My husband died of cancer on January 20 2016. I thought I had accepted his death. I hadn’t realized how distressed (angry)I felt about being left behind.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      You have my sympathy Rowena

      Those little guides to the five [or seven I’ve seen too] stages of grief are, in my very humble experience, mere nostrums! There’s no getting over the death of a loved, dear one. Flashes & sudden feelings of falling through the floor & all the other miseries can revisit one when it pleases them to do so.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:01 am | Permalink

        So very true.

      • Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:41 am | Permalink

        You’re right, Michael. You eventually get on with your life, but never know when it’s going to strike you out of the blue.

    • Liz
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry, too and to nicky also.

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      My heartfelt sorrow, Rowena.

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your kind understanding. I was simply amazed that this selfish, whiny little being showed up as part of my hidden persona. My husband did everything humanly possible to care for me. The night before he died, he suddenly remembered that he hadn’t done the quarterly estimated income tax payment yet, and did it, since he knew I probably wouldn’t get it done. Neither of us were perfect, but we loved each other and I wish we’d had more than our 54 years together.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        NOT whiny – and it was an interesting dream!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        Not whiny at all! I agree with Michael on that & that it was an interesting dream.

  26. Posted March 8, 2018 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t all dreams symptoms of penis envy? At least according to Freud.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      No, sometimes a cigar is just Cuban nostalgia.

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      In this case, there could be some envy, a bit of sibling-like rivalry, mixed in with admiration. All understandable. I’d swap my life for Pinkah’s. 🙂

  27. rickflick
    Posted March 8, 2018 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    No, sometimes a cigar is just Cuban nostalgia.

  28. Matthew North
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Ha ha, “Jewfro”. That’s funny. I’ve never heard that before.

  29. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    “But if I have a dream right before I wake up, then I often remember it.”

    I find the same. I also find that frequently part of my mind knows it’s dreaming and – if a dream gets too alarming – my mind says ‘time to wake up’.

    This, to my mind, just shows what a nonsense Fraudian attempts to interpret dreams is. If the only dreams we remember are a small percentage just before we wake up, this means that most of our dreams are forgotten and uninterpreted.


  30. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    Okay. A recurring dream I used to have, was of a path alongside a stream up a valley, which led to a footbridge that ran under another bridge. For decades I believed that this was an invention based on some composite of ‘Chewton Bunny’ (odd name for a stream valley) in Highcliffe, Hants and the Porth stream near Newquay, Cornwall – both places I visited often before the family shifted to New Zealand.

    Then in 1991 I was in UK visiting Hastings, which we left when I was three, I bought a street map and the name ‘Old Roar Ghyll’ rang a bell (another weird English name for a valley). I followed the path up the stream and – there was the bridge of my dreams! St Helens Road crosses the steep little valley on the skew in a magnificent two-arched bridge, which means the centre pier straddles the stream, which goes right through the centre pier in a little subsidiary arch; and the footpath is carried across the stream on a footbridge just parallel to the pier, under the road bridge. This sort of thing is magic to a 3-year-old.

    I haven’t dreamed about that bridge since. But it’s very satisfying to know it really exists.


  31. Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Given the neighbourhood that Wagar was/is in, the hair attire mentioned (if it is a thing – I have no idea) might have been quite popular there.

    As for dreams, my last one was of taking my friend Joan to something like an elementary school class reunion of mine. (The other people in the dream were three classmates I haven’t seen since June 1989.) I don’t think there was much content beyond the “that’s them impressions” I usually get in dreams instead of images of people.

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