My 3 year old is having nightmares – waking up at 3 in the morning scared because of the fire on the carpet coming from the ceiling. This is very real for him, and is recurring. However, he hasn’t necessarily grasped the concept of a dream, which is all the more terrifying for him.
It is very hard to him to explain the sense in which a dream is not real, or at least cannot be talked of in that sense. I also think that maybe he gets things right in a way that adults don’t when they get stuck in their own metaphors
A conversation in the morning might go:
- Son: “There isn’t a fire on the floor any more”
- Me: “Was there every a fire? An actual fire?”
- Son: “There was last night, but now there isn’t”
- Me: “Was it just a dream though?”
- Son: “Yes, it was a dream, there was fire last night”
- Me: “But was it just inside your head?”
- Son: [Chuckles]“Not a fire in my head..” [Chuckles] “… it came from the ceiling”
Of course there wasn’t a fire in his head – what a funny thing to say!
We may mean it to say (in philosophical talk) that was no correspondence to reality, that there was no verifiable instance of fire. We might mean it factually to say that the brain was rehearsing memories, strengthening neuron connections. More practically, we mean it as a source of comfort – it was only in your head and there is no need to be frightened.
The subject matter of the dream though (of which the experience can be just as real as the “real thing”) is not about anything going on in the interior of his skull; and sees no reason why that is relevant. And why – actually – is that relevant? Why would one press the point? Is that a natural way of speaking?
As adults we like to use the metaphor, and are probably encouraged to do that by neuroscience. We can see the visual cortex light up (in textbooks mainly!) and so that it must be our brain thinking. Our brain doesn’t think (we do), and we do not do it “in our heads”. No more so, than when our visual cortex lights up on seeing a more deadly (not necessarily a more real) fire.
It is probably impossible to distinguish Philosophical Talk from any form of “natural” language game absolutely. But equally, as long as my son can be happy at night, no metaphors beyond what is necessary be imposed upon him