As people like to post crackpot theories that are congenial to them, I thought I’d plop this down here.
I was thinking about how dreams can seem (from the point of view of the dreamer) to go on for very long periods of time, even if the dream, from the point of view of an external observer, might only last a couple of minutes. And I noted that it might be the case that as we lose executive function in geezerhood and become more and more a batch of autonomous, unconscious functions, our dream experiences get phenomenologically longer and longer. [If I knew something more about relativity theory maybe I could analogize this with the difference between falling into a black hole from the vantage of an outside observer and the vantage of the falling person, but alas….]
Anyhow, it seemed conceivable to me that one’s unconscious (where Freud said “time does not exist”) dream experiences might increasingly “stretch” until, at the moment of death, they becomes “endless” (or eternal or something like that).
If this were the case, everyone would have his or her own personal eternal afterlife, and the characteristics of each of these states would have the nice feature of being to some extent a function of how well we had “worked through” things in our lives. “Redemption” would kind of be in play, since, presumably, those who feel guilty about things they’ve done and haven’t “karma-cleaned” as it were, would be likely to have a less pleasant after-life. You’d also get to “interact” with all your loved ones, and your memories of them would be in some sense better than what you can consciously access–because, again, the unconscious has no “history,” so everything’s in there in tip-top shape. Finally, I liked the connection with the William James excerpt from “Varieties of Religious Experience” that I’d recently posted here:
Let me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its farther side, the “more” with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life. Starting thus with a recognized psychological fact as our basis, we seem to preserve a contact with “science” which the ordinary theologian lacks. At the same time the theologian’s contention that the religious man is moved by an external power is vindicated, for it is one of the peculiarities of invasions from the [pg 513] subconscious region to take on objective appearances, and to suggest to the Subject an external control. In the religious life the control is felt as “higher”; but since on our hypothesis it is primarily the higher faculties of our own hidden mind which are controlling, the sense of union with the power beyond us is a sense of something, not merely apparently, but literally true.
The idea here is that “God” is really us, but that should be OK, at least from a personal standpoint, because the autonomous functions of the brain are about as “Other” as any spaghetti monster might be. We have no control over them: they completely run the show. Thus, those portions of our “minds” of which we are not conscious ought to be seen as being extremely potent and sufficiently “outside,” just like any father-figure ought to be.
Anyhow, when I mused about this stuff, I figured that I couldn’t have been the first to do so, and googled “dreams after-life.” One of the first things that came up was this piece by Bryon Ehlmann, a retired Ph.D. in computer science.
Ehlmann’s piece there isn’t very detailed, but he links a recent publication of his in the “Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research” (which can be seen on his academia.edu page). And he has a more recent–and more technical–article, still in draft on his academia page–in which he offers what he takes to be a proof of this theory.
I haven’t read this latter paper yet, and I’m skeptical about “proofs” generally. But I can imagine empirical dream studies of older and/or cognitively impaired individuals to find out if this “stretching” is actually going on. I’m doubtful even of the likelihood of strong empirical support, tbh. I mean it’s obviously a woo-drenched theory, something that can make the fearful naturalistic type a bit less anxious. I recognize that this is no more than a theory that is congenial to me….but I can’t deny that it really is comforting. And there’s nothing supernatural about it–except maybe the inferences.
ETA: I corrected the name of the Journal in which Dr. Ehlmann’s paper appeared.