A forest of porous dreaming

A fascinating section of the book How Forests Think by anthropologist Eduardo Kohn where he describes how dreaming is much more porous among the Runa people of Ecuador.

This is both because of how they understand dreams, but also because of the way sleep happens in their culture – it being a more social and frequently interrupted activity, meaning that dreams and the outside world interact much more intensely.

From page 13:

Sleeping in Ávila is not the consolidated, solitary, sensorially deprived endeavour it has often become for us. Sleep – surrounded by lots of people in open thatch houses with no electricity and largely exposed to the outdoors – is continuously interspersed with wakefulness. One awakens in the middle of the night to sit by the fire and ward off the chill, or to receive a gourd full of steaming huayusa tea, or on hearing the common potoo call during a full moon, or sometimes the distant hum of a jaguar. And one awakens also to the extemporaneous comments people make throughout the night about those voices they hear.

Thanks to these continuous disruptions, dreams spill into wakefulness and wakefulness into dreams in a way that entangles both. Dreams – my own and those of my housemates, the strange ones we shared, and even those of their dogs – came to occupy a great deal of my ethnographic attention, especially because they so often involved the creatures and spirits that people the forest. Dreams too are part of the empirical, and they are kind of real. They grow out of and work on the world, and learning to be attuned to their special logics and their fragile forms of efficacy helps reveal something about the world beyond the human.

Interestingly, if your sleep is interrupted by people giving you huayasa tea you are also likely to sleep rather differently as it contains caffeine, meaning you may sleep more lightly and be more sensitive to your environment as a result.

I’m still getting to grips with the book which sounds lovely but is actually about how the theory of anthropology as a study of humans is challenged by societies where whole ecosystems form part of cognitive systems.

As with any book about deep theory, it is both difficult and intriguing, and sometimes I feel like I am lost in a forest myself.
 

Link to more details of How Forests Think.

1 thought on “A forest of porous dreaming”

  1. Hypothetically without the interference of light pollution and noise pollution I’d think they could sleep more soundly caffeine or not. Reminds me of Future Primal or Spell of the Sensuous. With “paleo” catching on I wonder if this will be some new supertrend – getting back in touch with our inner primate. Frogmouths. I studied their distant swift cousins. I’d love to hear them when I sleep. Jaguars, maybe not so much.

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