The London Underground - or - Alienation Effects

Dreamer: Ronald, 26, British male

My girlfriend and I were going on a holiday I can't remember where, we were traveling on a Saturday and I remember seeing the day on the tickets. We were on a train on the London Underground going to Gatwick airport for the flight when I looked at the tickets again and noticed that the date was actually for the following Monday. I said this to my girlfriend and she said it's ok, just call them. So I took out my mobile phone and rang the holiday company but couldn't get through, so I rang my parents to ask them if they could get me a different number. My mother then said to me that the holiday company had gone bankrupt and that all the holidays had been cancelled.

I remember feeling devastated that this happened and felt terrible (dejected) when I was telling my girlfriend about it. Then for no reason I just lay down in the middle of the train carriage and fell asleep. When I woke up, my girlfriend was waiting for me and said 'What's wrong?' Then I looked out of the window and noticed that we had missed the stop for the airport, so I looked at the train map and saw that if we got off at the next stop we could get back home. We picked up the luggage and got off at the next stop but instead of a station it was a huge cave with a train track running through it. Then all of a sudden a mini battle started up with us in the middle of it, just like in a James Bond film or something. I then woke up; the dream felt so vivid and real.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Alienation Effects or Broken Dreams

Many dreams reported to the Institute have the reported "quality" of feeling "real." You have entered what is known in philosophy as "Plato's Cave." In Britain the XL Airways recently declared bankruptcy, leaving up to 85,000 people to return home at their own expence.

In film, theatre and literature the feeling of being transported into "virtual" reality is faced not as an artistic fiction but as a real event. A community's culture industries rely on group illusion (enchantment), identification and conformity to social reality for its solidarity. It is imperative to cover up and veil the traces and clues that social reality is a rhetorical construction. From a sociological perspective these ideas are known as "symbolic interactionism". For a good read see Peter Berger's "The Social Construction of Reality".

As spectators and actors/performers in dreams we derive pleasure in the illusion and identification of/with social reality in that it provides us with reassurance that the represented social world corresponds to our expectations of it. Social reality is then perceived as natural, universal and "real." A problem arises when reality does not conform to our expectations of it. Our minds are alerted when a recognition conflict occurs while reading our maps of social reality when they mismatch with reality itself. Alfred Korzybski's famous phrase "the map is not the territory" applies to all thought and the problems of our ability to perceive reality.

Many dreams direct the spectators' attention to the gaps, breaks, slips and knots in the flow and coherence of the normal expectations of reality. The problem is that the "illusion" of reality may be effective but it may also be just as fragile because of problems with identification or conformity in specific situations. The function of such breaks in film, theatre, literature as well as in the dream is in producing an "alienation effect." The product of alienation from social symbolic interaction carried to its extreme is mental illness (i.e. depression and schizophrenia/autism). Disillusionment, disenchantment, and the disappointment of broken dreams is the common coin of the oppressed and disenfranchised.

Your feelings of devastation, helplessness (lying down in the middle of the train and falling asleep) and dejection all serve to illuminate both the reality and alienation effects of everyday life, especially its economic side. Your feelings seem to be a response to the news from your mother of the bankruptcy of the travel agency. We can respond rationally or irrationally to the dissonance we sense when social reality fails us and our expectations are defeated. The psychological reality of money certainly shapes our individual and collective social reality in terms of our desires, hopes and aspirations. Individual and collective history has been (and is still) driven by both the reality and alienation effects. Is money real? Or is it an illusion we all "believe" in and thereby we "make it real"? The psychological bankruptcy you experience exposes the "theatric illusion" of social reality and the thoughts and feelings it generates.

As to why exactly the mini battle, like in a James Bond film takes place, I'm uncertain other than like you, Bond is British, though he has a license to kill. It occurs to me that from the popular culture perspective of Bond music, Nancy Sinatra's You only Live Twice fits the description of your dream. 

Some literature that might help to understand more:

  • Didier Anzieu, "The Group and the Unconscious"
  • Gregory Bateson, "The Ecology of Mind"
  • Susanne Langer, "Mind: an Essay in Human Feeling"
  • Wolfgang Iser, "The Fictive and the Imaginary"
  • John Belton (ed), "Movies and Mass Culture"
  • Georg Simmel, "Philosophy of Money"
  • Adrian Furnham and Michael Argyle, "The Psychology of Money"

Hope these thoughts are of help.
Mark H.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.