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The Dream of Someone Else

Frank: What about you, is there someone else?
Kathleen: No. No, but . . . but there's the dream of someone else.

--"You've Got Mail" (1998)

My good friend at the bar I frequent turned the "bar" on me recently when I found myself listening to her advice instead of being the one offering it. She said I had to widen my horizon, meet new people and make new friends because as it is, she continued, I only go to work, go there and go out with the same people. Of course, there was a violent reduction in what she said; but that's not the point and I appreciate someone saying these things to me. And that was what she could see, even regularly: me being alone, sometimes with family, sometimes with friends. So I see where she is coming from and I am happy because she got me thinking. It's nothing like I'd do anything she advised though; but what was really interesting was the idea behind it and what I felt when I imagined it.

Initially and for the most part we are amidst beings which surround us and capture our attention: because we are "thrown" into these beings, as Martin Heidegger would say, it may happen that we "lose ourselves" in them. And this "being lost in beings" has nothing dangerous or immoral about it; it only points to an essential aspect of our being, that we take care (Sorge) of beings around us. When the clock stops we care to change its batteries. When there is a problem at work we care enough to do our best to address it. When a friend needs a hand we drop everything to be there for him. All these point to that fundamental disposition of our being which concerns itself with beings around us.

It may happen, however, that such a natural concern for beings goes unnoticed and we find ourselves so preoccupied with them that we tend to think that these beings are what is most important. That we value the most beings that we care for (things, work, friends, family, etc.) is redundant because we only care for what we value and value only what we care about. Thus it goes without saying that what matters most are real beings which I care for; inversely, when a being which I care for is absent or becomes a non-being, I suffer a loss: thus the watch I cannot find fazes me, the departure of a friend saddens me, a death in my family terrifies me. We only value beings which we care for and we can only care for beings which are real. We all know this already.

There can nevertheless be occasions when without one's willing or wishing it, and in privileged moments which escape the everyday dictatorship of presence, the real beings that surround us and care for all too slowly become--not as important or real anymore. Not as important or as real as what? They do not become unimportant in themselves--as if their being was diminished or as if I deliberately no longer care for them; they only become less important to what as of yet has no name--because it is not yet real or is not yet a being. But what may be remarkable is that in some cases this non-being (non-present and not-yet) may have a greater reality than beings which are around me.

What is this absent being which may have a greater reality than what is already real? Only this: possibility. And "higher than actuality stands possibility," says Martin Heidegger.

But how is this possible? How can something which is not present become more present than what is already present? How can something which does not exist be more real than what already exists?

Or in an ontic sense: How can I leave and surrender all I have for a beloved which is yet to come? Or how can a dream that may arrive tomorrow have more worth than a thousand todays?

Let us see.

* * *

We are looking for an experience which is available to us and our being that accommodates the possibility of having possibilities.

One such experience, one which is already shopworn and always played around with in movies and television shows, is the experience of dreaming--that profound experience we take for granted or dismiss too easily. But what does dreaming mean? Without going into the psychology of dreams, we shall attempt to describe it instead of explaining it.

When do we dream? We dream when we sleep, that is, when we are away from the waking world, the real world, the actual and the present world, when we rest from our being-in-the-world. So we dream when we sleep and the world sleeps, too, when we dream. The sleep of the world: when beings fade away and recede into the silence of the night, where evening covers over beings in its black shroud which eliminates all difference and makes it appear as if all beings are non-beings, or at least all beings are alike--and when everything is alike, nothing is (void). With one mighty closing of my eyes I neutralize all beings.

Sleep, to be clear, does not annihilate the world as if they do become non-beings; they still are in their being, nothing has changed them, they are only eclipsed by my sleep. I evade them or they evade me: I leave them in sleep, rest from their presence, wave a flag for a retreat which only retreats to gather strength for a return to be made tomorrow (responsibility, work, eternal recurrence). Or beings leave me in my sleep as if to respect me, to reward me for a "day's work" in the world of beings, grant me respite like armies which withdraw from battle at the coming of night with the mutual understanding that one, even the brave and the heroic, needs to rest.

The dark eclipse of beings and their withdrawal grant me the possibility of creating another reality: one that is "made up," "virtual" and "illusory"--in sleep I enter the world of dreams. And strictly speaking, what kind of world is this but a world of possibilities?

However, the uncanny aspect of dreams and thus always possibilities is that they present themselves to me as seemingly real, sometimes too real, in that we believe that they are indeed real. We know this already. But what is essential in that uncanny aspect is this: that I have the sheer ability to "think" and "feel," even for a moment, as if something unreal could be real, which means that I can be deceived. What is the point in this and what does it matter if I can be deceived into thinking and believing that something unreal is real? Is this not all the more problematic and confusing and even sinister and evil that something can deceive me (Descartes)?

To be sure--yet the inverse of this ability to be "tricked" by something unreal, and the positive side of such a deception is that this indicates the possibility which I now find in me that I can imagine, dream, and perceive something else than what is real. This only means that in having the ability to be deceived by the unreal I at the same time in principle can then also be deceived by the really real. The unreal can thus deceive me into thinking that it is real, so what I think is real (and actually is) can also seem unreal. Without a sleight of hand I thus recognize that the real, too, could also be an illusion or--a dream.


"Life is but a dream." There is truth to this though we may not always understand it fully.

Through the ontic experience of dreaming we have grasped a possibility for us to imagine something else than what is real and actual. And this is only possible for human beings.

Only human beings are capable of imagining and dreaming ultimately because only they have possibilities. The rock on my feet (because it has no ability to decide) and the god above me (because it's possibility is already its actuality) have no possibilities--they cannot change. Only I have the ability to change, to be otherwise than what I already am, because only I have possibilities in the sense that only I have a future before me. Hence the true meaning of Being for human existence only unfolds in Time (Heidegger).

For what are possibilities other than having a future? That I have a dream of becoming this or that (a teacher, physician, world leader) only formally indicates that I am able to project myself to a future which is, strictly speaking, unreal--a not-yet. And this is an incredible ability: to be able to be in the future otherwise than what you already are, that is, to become what you are not now in the future and leave what seems to be real now for what is presently unreal. In a word, I can be what I am not. Hence Sartre's words: "I am what I am not and I am not what I am."

What is actual and present then, what seems to be real or true will never be the last word; perhaps it is only the foreword, a preface and an introduction to "the true life to come." Nietzsche confirms this when he challenges us to finally become who we really are: "Be yourself! What you are at present doing, opining and desiring, that is not really you."

That you are this or that now; that you have a past that can no longer be changed and which seems to have determined who and what you are right now; that you are doing what seems to be what is right or the only thing you can do for the present; that you are loving this or that person who seems to be the right one because she has made you happy; that you are living a life which seems to have found it sole meaning or purpose in this dream or in that goal--these are not the final words of your story. Everything is prelude and preparation for a future which is always richer than the present, truer than the true, more real than the real, and always more beautiful than the beautiful.


  1. Anonymous9/19/2009

    This brings to mind something you said in one of your posts about desire-- that we desire only those which we do not have. Does that also apply to this? I'm so sorry for asking, I am sure this is beside your point. :)

    What I would really like to say is, I am very thankful to you. I have been reading your posts lately (some for a couple of times, even!) and I am finding them most helpful. Comforting and enlightening. Comforting, because I am made aware that I am not the only one who concerns herself about these things. Enlightening because you articulate your thoughts so well that they help me understand my own thoughts (which, by far, aren't as organized and profound as yours) better. I am learning a tremendous lot about philosophy, and ultimately, about myself. I hope you know that you are helping someone so much just by doing what you do, and thinking what you think. :)

    Thank you! :)

  2. Dear friend,

    Yes, you can say that. Actually you helped giving me an idea for the next part. (Most of the time I really do not know what comes next; hence the "installments.")

    The riddle was this: how is it possible that sometimes what we have (actual and presence) pales in comparison to what we don't (possibility and absence). Or more so, since I've taken that up already, that we are able to surrender the actual for the possible--and yes, that is indeed desire, longing, or as what I'll be writing about next: dreaming.

    And please don't thank me, you are too kind. I guess we are all just helping ourselves understand things, and whatever I say here is something that, as you mentioned correctly, you know already. We're all just trying find our way.

    I appreciate it. All the best.

  3. Anonymous9/21/2009

    Oh I am not saying that I know these things already. Definitely, I do not, I tell you! Thank you for sharing these. :)

    I like it that this "someone else" pertains not only to a beloved that is yet to come but, also, to one's own self. I am just finding the idea of "possibility" all at the same time sad and hopeful. Hopeful, because I know things can be better. Because I can, like you said, dream. But also, sad, because it seems to me that this pining for what is not present prevents me from being truly happy with my life, from living in the present. Or is this what is meant by living in the present? To look forward? I do remember you writing before that waiting is not necessarily a stationary, idle activity. It is an activity precisely because it requires "active" participation. Or something to that effect, I think. Anyway, I will definitely get back to that particular entry. I'm afraid I am not expert at these things. :)

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I wish you all the best. :)

  4. Dear friend,

    No, really. We all know this already but, as Plato would say, we just forget it. So knowledge for him is mere remembering or "anamnesis." This makes understanding possible: that you understand me and I understand you entails a pre-knowledge that we share. So in a word, no one knows more than anyone else. (Or which comes to the same, no one is an expert on these things as no one really knows a thing as Socrates said). But I'm boring you, so going back . . .

    I was afraid of the same thing and you're to the point about this--so what happens to the present and the actual and the real? How then can one be happy with the present if the future in principle will always be better?

    I'm afraid I do not know the answer to that; and maybe that's why I left that open. I can say what I would usually say: that it is a matter of deciding, deciding that what I have now shall be better than what I do not have--because I can make that so and that is the power of decision, much like promising to someone that I will love her until I die (knowing well that there will always be the dream of someone else). But now I can't say that anymore. And I really don't know why. What do you think?

    Nevertheless, I believe that happiness in the present is not only possible but also real. And such a happiness, though always lacking when compared to the possible future happiness to come, has but one deciding advantage: it is real. Hence the present will always be a present. For example, I cannot really love the possible beloved to come like the way I can embrace the beloved who is here now. Therein, perhaps, lies the paradox.

    And yes, when it comes to the future, we can only wait.

    No, it's you I should thank, really. It's different and so much better talking with someone here. It can be too quiet. So thanks again.

    (I like what you said, by the way: that it is also possible that the present means "looking forward." Because this means that the future is already contained and can be hoped in the present. That's a really nice way of putting it. Thanks.)

  5. Anonymous9/22/2009

    I have been thinking about your question for an hour now. You see, I am very sure that you have given the topic much thought already, and I really wanted to offer you something new (the way your entries always give me something new to think about). However, I find that all I can offer is something that you already know. (How terribly unoriginal, I know!)

    You have said it before: it is never a matter of love; it is always a matter of timing.

    I can only speculate as to your reasons why you can no longer profess your undying love to someone. Why you cannot do that now, I do not know. Perhaps you are on hiatus? Recharging before you dare take that big leap yet again? (After all, we all need some recharging once in a while!) Anyway, I really wouldn’t know. All that comes to mind are clichés. I really wouldn’t know. What I do know is that you strike me as a person who is capable of truly loving, of timeless love. You strike me as someone who understands that to say “I love you until the day I die,” is to commit one’s self totally and without reserve. While I may not know what your reasons are exactly, I think I know what they are not about—your ability to love. Yes, I think I am very sure about this—it is never about love; it is all a matter of timing. It will come in due time. :)

    P.S.: I just realized, I keep putting words in your mouth! I sincerely apologize if I remembered incorrectly, or if I have used your words in the wrong context. :)

  6. Dear friend,

    Thank you for your response.

    That caught me off guard, but in a really good way as I wasn't able to think of that. What that means (that it's only a matter of time) is it is Time alone, and not me, which is able to tell me what is the best time or the right time, or the time for the greatest happiness possible.

    May it be the past, the present or the future, Time shall be the last judge and never myself. This means that Time shall show me whether or not the present shall be better than tomorrow, that the actual shall outweigh the possible, that the one who is here is to be loved more than the one who shall come.

    But what does it mean that Time decides? And how shall I know with certainty if it is time, especially without my willing it (decision)? What is the "right time" and how do I perceive that? If time can speak, what is it's language? Now, I guess that will be another story or another path in the future. And thank you for making that future path possible.

    And as to the other things you said: now that not only caught me off guard but that also, well . . . I can only wholeheartedly thank you.

    P.S. Please, don't apologize for anything. I'm learning from this much more than I can when alone. So I thank you again.


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