People Are Having Disturbingly Similar Dreams About Donald Trump
Having nightmares about Tuesday's election? You're not the only one.
We're finally at the end of Donald Trump's campaign for president. And after 16 months of insanity, it's no surprise many of us are dreaming about him.
But here's the thing. When you look closely at the thousands of Donald Trump dreams being reported on social media, you see the same weirdly specific details showing up over and over.
There's the one where Trump is your dentist.
The one where Trump is your really horrible math teacher.
And the one where you're running away from Trump in a Walmart.
Here's that same dream again on two other sites.
And why does peanut butter keep showing up? More importantly, why is everyone attacking Trump with spaghetti?
And then there's a strange, Salvador Dali-ish dream I call the Liquid Cheese Incident.
If it was only math and melted cheese, I wouldn't worry too much. But the most popular shared dreams are actually ~diabolical nightmares~ about what will happen if Trump wins. Like this really common one about The Purge.
Then there's the one with the zombie apocalypse.
The one with the killer clown apocalypse.
The one with the alien conspiracy theory.
And the one where Trump is Voldemort.
If you're a Stephen King fan, you know that if people start sharing the same ominous dreams, it always means the end of the world. So it's all a little bit concerning, especially if you don't like clowns.
But according to neuroscientist Moran Cerf, shared dreams are actually quite common. And they're often associated with major events like elections or natural disasters, he says.
Basically, because we're all thinking about the election all the time, it shows up in our dreams, and our dreams start to look the same.
"Imagine the amount of awake time we spend talking and thinking about the election," says Cerf, who studies the science of dreams. "It is not surprising that our sleeping-brain will devote a similar fraction of its processing power."
But we don't just dream about the same real-life events. We also share the same symbols, a phenomenon Carl Jung famously called the "collective unconscious."
Cerf says there's actually some contemporary evidence for this, citing the dreams that were reported by New Yorkers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"Kids and adults alike had nightmares about planes crashing into buildings first," he says. Later, they started dreaming of planes in their bedrooms and "bees crashing into the Twin Towers".
But why these specific dreams? Why all the Ubers? Why spaghetti? Why so many dreams starring Trump and Snoop Dogg?
"We can easily come up with ways to interpret those," says Cerf. "But that's a risky front."
While dream interpreters make a lot of money finding the "meanings" of our dreams, he says, we don't know if any of it is true: it could just be our brains using whatever random content is handy.
So what are dreams doing for our brain? Nobody knows for sure, but Cerf says one of the best suggestions so far is that they help us rehearse past events, or simulate future events we're not quite sure about.
Say you want to dump your boyfriend and move interstate, he says, but you're not quite sure. "Your brain will create a virtual reality simulation of that for you, and filter it through your emotions and senses so you wake up with a better sense of whether you should do it."
Maybe, he says, people are dreaming about presidential candidates because they "want to see how they feel about them and what the world would be with them in power."
That explanation sounded pretty convincing to me. But before totally discounting the possibility of a clownpocalypse, I decided to get a second opinion.
Catherine Liu is a professor at UC Irvine who studies psychoanalytic theory. She's also one of the editors of a major book on Sigmund Freud's dream theories.
From her point of view, dreams are "half-censored thoughts and wishes" that "collect the flotsam and jetsam of our everyday lives and rearrange and deform them."
They're not easy to read, however, and you can't analyze their meaning collectively. (Liu rejects Jung's theory of the collective unconscious as too tidy an explanation for such a dark, messy place.)
But she does draw attention to one revealing theme in many of the dreams: Trump often appears with "evil and seductive powers." For Liu, this indicates that we actually wish for him to powerful.
"We want evil to be a simple bad guy who can be destroyed," she says.
In reality, she argues, our problems are complex. Climate change, income inequality, and a broken two-party system all require long-term effort to fix. But instead of "growing up and facing the mess that is American politics," we prefer to regress to childhood and see him as a cartoon villain.
Hence all the dreams about children's foods like spaghetti and peanut butter, she says. There's also lots of dreams about Trump being our father.
But there's another reason we dream about Trump as a supervillain, according to Liu. And it also reflects our desire to regress.
"We want Donald to be powerful so that he can take over and we have no more responsibility for what happens to us," she says.
"Who wants to be in control all the time?"