Who are the people in our dreams? If sleep was a way for our spirits to travel beyond our plane of existence, then we might be meeting the spirits of other people who have reached the same dimension with us. All it would take to prove this hypothesis would be to have two separate people report having the same dream at the same time in which each saw the other. As far as I know, we have no evidence that this has ever occurred.
The more mundane explanation is that our brains are creative machines. Each night, they invent the setting and populate it with characters from our imagination. This makes rational sense, but my emotional side feels like it isn’t the whole picture. How can I be dreaming up these other people effortlessly and unconsciously, when I find it so difficult to do so when awake?
Another explanation is that these other people are not pure inventions, but are different facets of my own personality. We all play different roles in real life, and present different faces to the world in various situations. Dreams are a place where we can confront ourselves, or meet aspects of our selves which are kept hidden from the world. The movie Inception tapped into this idea by saying that the client populated the shared dream with his subconscious, creating a cast of “movie extras” for crowd scenes and supporting characters.
In my dreams this week, I have encountered people in an elevator, a restaurant, a horse stable, and on public transportation. They were an assortment of male and female, young and old, beautiful and ugly, and a few were even famous. At no time did I recognize myself in any of them. For that matter, I did not recognize any of the locations, either. The transportation could have been a bus (with no windows) or an airplane (with no tray tables) or a passenger train; for the sake of the dream/story, it was a non-specific detail. The other locations were places I have never been to in real life; they could exist in our world, or they could be in a parallel universe.
A few of these dreams also had an element of time travel in them. I was talking with people for whom my present was their future, and I had to be discreet about what I said to them. When I found someone else who was also from my time period, we could discuss the implications of being in the past. At least those conversations make sense to me, in terms of being inside my own head and talking with myself.
There may never be a way to prove exactly what is going on inside our dreams or what the mechanisms are that generate them. That doesn’t make it any less fun to travel there.