Up the Down Staircase -or- Hebbian Learning

Valerie 21, University Student 

The aspect from my dreams that I would really like interpreted deals with stairs. I never have the same dream about them, but the same basic theme applies to most of my dreams involving stairs. First of all, if I am in my dream and realize that I need to go somewhere (up, down, out of a building, etc.) and I need to take stairs, I tend to find that the stair cases never seem to take me where I want to go. OR the stairs do not lead anywhere at all. Also, sometimes these stair cases lead to a floor where I can go somewhere BUT there is always something wrong. For example, I go up the stairs and come out on a floor, but as soon as I start walking across the floor I realize there is a large break between in the floor opening to floors below - thus I cannot get to the other side if I wanted to or not. Another recurring theme with stairs is the lack of railings, where it would be easy to fall off if someone were not paying attention. 

One other problem I've had in dreams is that stairways will be next to each other, and I realize I need to get to the other stairway, but there is no clear way to do that. In dreams that I would have long ago, I would simply be stuck on the wrong stair well and wake up. However, in more current dreams I've found that I can push myself to either jump to the other side. Most of the time when I do jump or climb across to where I need to be, my body seems to be telling me not to do that, but my mind pushes it to do so. 

The Emperor's New Mind -or- Problem Solving in Dream Vision 

From a Piagetian perspective you are learning what Piaget called "formal operational thought". This abstract form of dream logic allows your unconscious "working memory" to think, move, problem solve and remember inside abstract imaginary (or virtual) information space, time and causation. This operational "step by step" type of thinking and attention in your dream, is known as an "algorithm" and is what your dreams are all about. 

From a neuropsychological perspective these attention and neural operations are known as "Hebbian learning". Your mind is forcing your body to do something your body is telling you not to. Which is nothing else than saying the inherited wisdom of your body telling you that you are taking dangerous risks. On the other side of this psychological coin, by testing and pushing yourself to the limit of your personal boundaries, allows you to find out where those physical and psychological limits of your body and mind are. 

What you have discovered in your dreams is what has become known as the "Penrose stairs". The poetic visual figures of the ascending and descending staircases are the stuff your dreams are made of. This is also the oneiric architectural "labyrinthine" stuff of such films as "Inception" and "The Matrix". Roger Penrose "The Emperor's New Mind" and "Shadows of the Mind" has developed a theory of consciousness that involves quantum physics and computing that can be applied to understand what your mind is attempting to do in your dreams.

From an American popular culture perspective your dream points to the the novel "Up the Down Staircase", which was also made into a film. The books title is provided by a memo sent to teachers to inform their students;"do not walk up the down staircase." (Watch "Up the Down Staircase" film trailer)


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