Earwigs and Arabesques: Dreaming in the Multiverse


Cynthia Pearson

Presented to the 15th Annual Conference of the
Association for the Study of Dreams
Laie, Oahu, Hawaii
June 27, 1998

In a paper that I presented in 1997, I reported on observations I had made of 600 of my own dreams using a computer database, and described a phenomenon that I called the "arabesque." An arabesque is a complex pattern of intertwined lines, and it seemed an apt designation for the curious, intricate synchronicities I discovered. These involved a dream from the past's having surprising pertinence to my waking experiences at the time I happened to enter it into the database, often years later. Events since that presentation have suggested other variations of the arabesque, specifically the intertwining of waking and dreaming experiences that can occur among individuals.

I will discuss two of the more remarkable examples that have taken place among members of the "Dream Workshop," an ongoing study group for dream sharing and research that has been meeting since 1995. I started the "Dream Workshop" because, after teaching dream courses for five years at a community college and other adult learning centers, I knew a number of dreamers who wanted to keep meeting to work on dreams after their courses ended. But I also wanted to establish a forum that would be open to the public, so that newcomers to dream work could come, join in, and see if they liked it. My solution was to book a room at the local Friends Meeting House, charge participants a small fee to pay the rent and expenses, and post the schedule in the local papers. Thus, on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, a group that may number from as few as 3 to as many as 20 -- but normally around 6 or 7-- meets to learn about what's new in dream work, to discuss dreaming in general, and to share their dreams in the tradition established by Ullman and Zimmerman in Working with Dreams.

Over time, a core of four long-term regulars has formed, dreamers who have come to know each other well and have been through a lot of dream work together. The two experiences I will relate have involved at least one of these regulars. Although it could be argued that we have formed some sort of special bond, I think the reason for this is that we are in the habit of observing our dreams together. We have become our own small research group.

Arabesques are not limited to the veteran dreamers who have become accustomed to working together. Indeed, on more than one occasion, an arabesque has included a total newcomer to the group. On one occasion in 1996, a woman came to the Dream Workshop for the first time, interested in learning more about dreamwork. Gina, one of the regulars, read a dream she'd had more than two weeks earlier. In it, she was with her friend, Claire, as they watched blimps flying over the campus of the University of Pittsburgh and exploding. "Some played music before they fell . . . The Goodyear blimp was one of them . . . A few small planes also crash landed."

As group members began discussing the dream, the newcomer spoke up: "Excuse me, I have to tell you all something. Just this afternoon, I had a flat tire and had to have it repaired. The nearest place was a Goodyear store that I'd never been to before. There was a television on in the waiting room, and my ears pricked up when I heard the words 'Schenectady, New York.' I'm from Schenectady, so I paid close attention. The story was that there had been a plane crash at an air show there, and the reporter commented that music continued playing before, during and after the crash." Then she added, "And I had a dream last night about my friend named Claire."

Now, there are a lot of ways to think about an experience like this. At the time, we told our new visitor, "Sounds like you joined us before you got here." We reflected on the idea of the collective unconscious, and marveled at the ways in which we join together at the well of dreaming. We filed this away under, "Another cool thing that happened in dream group." But I also thought about Heisenberg's axiom that the very act of observing disturbs the system, and how often we have noticed that observing our dreams seems to create more elaborate dream phenomena. In fact, we sometimes suspect that our dreams, having succeeded in capturing out attention, are actually showing off.

The most complex example of an arabesque occurred in a series of dreams and waking events in the fall of last year. On October 15, the regulars met at a coffee house where I brought up the idea I'd been entertaining for my next ASD presentation. At the last conference, I had discussed the arabesques in my own dream history. This time, I wanted to talk about the arabesque effect as it occurs with others. Having noticed many instances among ourselves like the Goodyear arabesque, we discussed which ones were most memorable.

But I had even more on my mind. At last year's talk, a member of the audience asked me what my thinking was about these examples of intertwining dreaming, and my only answer had been, "I just marvel at them." Next year, I told them, I wanted to venture some speculation about the possible underpinnings of these experiences.

Such underpinnings came to mind when I read a New York Times Book Review on October 5. One item reported that, "David Deutsch, author of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes and Its Implications, thinks…quantum mechanics… must be taken…as an explanation for how the world really works." I shared this notion with the other dreamers, and we discussed whether the inter-relatedness apparent in our group arabesques is a function of our living in "an ensemble of parallel universes that physicists have come to call the multiverse." We agreed that in the very least, this theory provided enough room to accommodate all the things that go on in our dreams.

Then, as the late afternoon wore on, Ed read a story-like dream from the week before that had intrigued him. It concerned a team of climbers in Tibet attempting an ascent that was "extremely dangerous." This was a stunning coincidence for me, for earlier that afternoon, I'd listened to a book on tape about mountain climbers reaching Tibet and embarking on extremely dangerous expeditions to Mt. Everest. We all marveled at the connection between Ed's dream and my reading.

We left one another that evening reminding ourselves of our "assignment" for our next class, to have a lucid dream in which we try to study something closely. The synchronicity and our conversation had left me feeling jazzed, and I recall asking the others, "Doesn't it feel like something is cooking?"

That night, I dreamed, "I've gone into the ASD conference by the Frick Fine Arts building." Eventually, "I am walking inside [a] bank, and I realize I am lucid dreaming…all of a sudden, Ed is there and he's …showing me drawings of something-- these are around 8 x 10 pieces of paper mounted on the wall of the bank. He seems to be explaining something about his dreams but I'm not really following."

After writing down this dream in the morning, I continued with a busy day. I was to attend a lecture by an oncologist and author, Robert Buckman, at Allegheny General Hospital, a complex I'd passed many times but never gone into. Traveling with a friend, we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there and figure out where to park. The lecture was delayed, so we had time to take a walk. As we strolled past the original entrance to the hospital, I suggested we have a look at the grand old lobby. As we stepped in, my friend said, "It looks like a bank." I said, "I was in a bank in my dreams last night." And then I realized that Allegheny General Hospital is where Ed works.

Doctor Buckman proved to be an entertaining speaker, very British, very informative, and very funny. In spite of his serious subject-- breaking the news of a cancer diagnosis-- it was soon clear that he was indeed the same man who had made a medical video with John Cleese. With his notes projected on the wall behind him, he embellished his points with jokes and gestures. The audience was laughing far more than it was taking notes, but at one point, he lost me. Explaining how hard it is for people to absorb bad news, he joked that it may seem that they cannot hear. Twisting a finger in his own ear, he ventured, "Perhaps it's an earwig."

I didn't understand what that meant. I thought an earwig was just some insect that buzzes about the ears. I wondered if this was some sort of British slang expression. This was a very trivial mystery, but it did give me pause.

When I got home that afternoon, I left a message on Ed's answering machine, to tell him I'd had a lucid dream and he'd been in it, and that then I'd been at Allegheny General and it had reminded me of the bank in my dream. Ed has a special interest in lucid dreaming and I knew he'd be intrigued. He did call me back at the end of the afternoon, but he was full of enthusiasm for reasons of his own. He had just been to the Frick Art Museum to see the current exhibit, drawings by Plains Indians. These drawings were made in the 1800s and early 1900s, and and most were drawn in ordinary ledger books. You can see the around 8 x 10 inch lined pages underneath the wonderful drawings.

In fact, I'd recommended the show to Ed, and he'd wanted to tell me how much he liked it. "Plus," he excitedly told me, and I quote, "I had an epiphany there!" There was one drawing that was like a dream Ed recalled having last winter. As soon as he got home looked it up in his journal, and found it. " I had it last January," he told me, "on the 6th."

That was a coincidence. I said, "Ed, did you know that January 6th is Epiphany?"

He hadn't, and was then even more impressed by his dream. In it, he is looking at "books with…American Indian art …[which] contain poetry and short stories…each opposite page is illustrated..." Then he and his wife are at "a Lakota reservation" where they walk around the grounds, past a "wooden church with a tall steeple [and] go into…an administration building." The drawing that gave Ed his "epiphany feeling" is an 1886 drawing of the church and administration building of the Pine Ridge Agency, North Dakota, on the reservation of the Lakota (Sioux). The ledger books in which these drawings were made reminded Ed of the books in his dream. The exhibit itself was comprised of these drawings under glass and mounted much like the pictures mounted in the bank in my dream.

I then told Ed the dream I wrote down that morning, in which he was pointing out pictures mounted on a wall and trying to tell me something about his dreams. I asked him if anything in my dream meshed with whatever he'd dreamt. He checked his notes and read me the dream he'd written down when he rose at 1:15 p.m. that day. Ed works the night shift and thus sleeps during the morning and early afternoon. He had this dream while I was attending the lecture.

Ed had dreamt that Doctor Frasier Crane, the television character, was sitting in front of a blackboard at a coffee house. A man enters "who may be Oscar Wilde. He starts to write a poem on the blackboard which he entitles, Ear-wig."

I found this astonishing. I asked Ed, "Did you just say 'earwig'?" I told him about my puzzlement over that word at the lecture. I asked, "Why did the man seem like Oscar Wilde? Was he British?"

When I hung up, I looked at the clock. It had been just 24 hours since our meeting at the coffee house, and it seemed our dreams and our waking experiences had made a very elaborate and timely arabesque. Perhaps our conversation about the multiverse had inspired this; or the Tibetan synchronicity; or our determination to have a lucid dream. Perhaps all of the above had contributed, but it took more time for me to realize that this incident had provided me with just the example I needed to document a group arabesque, and to speculate about the multiverse.

It was the next day that that I learned that earwigs were distinct insects which were believed to wiggle into people's ears. And it was several more days before I caught the next installment of "Frasier," featuring a costume party where people had to come as literary figures. Oscar Wilde would have fit right in.

This was certainly the fanciest and most intricate arabesque I have managed to trace to date. However, can this be applied to the idea that "…quantum mechanics… must be taken…as an explanation for how the world really works"?

In order to do this, we have to suppose some things that are a big, big stretch.

We have to imagine "that our universe is one of many in an ensemble of parallel universes that physicists have come to call the multiverse." No wonder that, as the Times reviewer put it, even "physicists are tired of thinking about it."

But perhaps they would have better luck if they paid attention to their dreams. The multiverse might be too elusive to grasp in the waking world of dressing and eating and working, but the sleeping world is a different matter. From this single example where Ed dreams ahead of time of a setting he later finds in a drawing, and I dream ahead of time of his pointing this out to me, we can say that:

1. In dreams we are not subject to the constraints of time that we recognize in our waking lives.

2. We know from quantum physics that space and time are one in the same.

3. Therefore, in dreams we are not subject to the constraints of our space time continuum.

I now find it less difficult to suppose that the single universe we inhabit, at least while we are awake and focused, is one of others. And, I can imagine that when we fall asleep, our sharp focus on this universe relaxes, and that we spontaneously return to the matrix of multiple universes. Indeed, it even seems likely to me that our dreams occur in this far vaster reality, freely traveling the interrelationships among the endless probabilities of the multiverse.

Imagine the Goodyear incident in dream class as a model of the way the multiverse works. Suppose for a moment that Schenectady is a parallel universe. Of course, it has the asset of our knowing that it actually does exist, but that makes it more useful for our example. For all intents and purposes that day-- and most days-- Schenectady is not in our consciousness, not on our minds and therefore imperceptible. It's having its reality in eastern New York and we're having ours in western Pennsylvania, like parallel universes. But then this event-- the dream, and the newcomer's experience-- gives us a glimpse of interrelatedness. The same can be said of the dreamer and the newcomer, strangers who had no knowledge of one another becoming suddenly aware of a relationship that is unexpected and mysterious, but absolutely compelling.

Perhaps all of us who live in this confining space-time continuum are traveling every night to and through other universes-- the Schenectadys, or for that matter, the Honolulus of the multiverse. And that may be one good way to visualize the multiverse, as a map with billions of people all over the world, connected by highways and shipping lanes, telephone lines and satellite links.

However, the more I think about it, the more I like the classic simplicity of the arabesque. It can depict not only the intertwining of our waking and dreaming lives; of our past, present and future; and of our connections with others. It can also suggest the endlessly complex and ornate branching of the multiverse.


Dream Journalist

Copyright Cynthia Pearson