Limitations of language as revealed by dreams

If there’s one thing that best reveals the limitations of language, it’s dreams. Explaining a dream is almost impossible; our language is just not at all suited for it.

I tried to explain a dream I’d had to my partner, and I simply could not convey the scariness of this dream through words. The dream was experiential in a manner alien to language-based explanation; the narrative and my attention moved through it in a totally different way than in everyday experience.

At one point in the dream, my attention shifted from a group of people to two new people, and the remainder of what happened in the dream relied on the fact that I’d totally forgotten about the first group of people, but not entirely. If it were a movie, the writer would have to contend with the fact that the audience remembered the first group of people, but in the dream it simply didn’t happen that way. The ordinary sort of linear narrative-type experience didn’t apply.

Our language seems to be primarily functional: how well can it transmit an idea about everyday experience? For experiences beyond the everyday–psychedelic, dream, or otherwise–language falls apart. I think it’s possible to construct a shared language around these sorts of experiences, though. It’s just another sort of experience.