What would Master Zhūang say?

In the opinion of this author, there is not as much value in dream dictionaries as I’d like. One can provide assistance to someone in the interpretation of their dream experience but it seems inadvisable to dictate a specific meaning for each symbol. At least four factors govern the meaning of a dream symbol to an individual dreamer, not the least of which being the dreamer’s knowledge and opinions formed during waking life. The other factors depend on circumstance and culture. An anchor may mean something entirely different from one dream to the next ὄναρ or in another 梦想. And certainly all of these would represent divergent things to someone who makes or uses anchors as opposed to someone who doesn’t.

Similarly, there are certain assumptions put forward in psychology about the meaning of doodles. Circles, for example, are said by some to indicate a desire for a more peaceful or organized state. How each person thinks of them – what they may represent during and after drawing a few – is the same as dreaming. Probably during my elementary school years the circle began to serve as the symbol of introspection. This has gradually evolved closer to the idea of an orbit – such as an electron around the nucleus of an atom held in place by electromagnetic force. A moon in the gravity well of a planet, if you will.

The moon, planet, and gravity well as a set represent my understanding of myself and the world around me. The orbital path illustrates that maintaining comprehension is an on-going process. Additional satellites each indicate a separate interest. If I lose interest in something, it has reached “escape velocity”. Those ideas that come back seemingly seasonally to distract me are comparable to long-term comets. Anything not “in orbit” is outside the range of interest. It hasn’t caught my attention – or, in this metaphor – I haven’t caught interest in it yet.

Since I became aware of the word affinity I’ve had an affinity for it. From the 1600s to the present day, it has been used to describe an attraction to something. During the three centuries prior to that, affinity was used to refer to a relation by marriage. Ultimately, the term derives from the Latin affinis or ad + finis, meaning “to the limit or boundary of” – in essence, the state of being adjacent. Affinity is a handy explanation for why people do what they do: they’ve an affinity for it, whatever it is.

Just as the definition of affinity has evolved – symbols change their meanings over time. The anchor in future dreams may have little in common with interpretations today. Literally today, in the field of psychology, there is debate on the veracity of the theory of ego depletion. (For those who are more curious, consult next month’s Perspectives on Psychological Science.) Mention is made of it here because this could signal an evolution in certain theories of human behavior.

And while I likely won’t abandon the “orbital” mechanism for introspection, I do think I’ve a new metaphor for affinities — they’re a quite specific form of pocket or niche. There’s engineering behind why a honeycomb looks the way it does. Comparable principles dictate that any three bubbles that connect will form 120° angles between them. If oneself is a pocket of interest, one’s range of interest would include adjacent pockets.

In a honeycomb, this would result in just six interests – all of equal proportion even to the central or “self” pocket. A globe in a volume of identical globes will touch twelve others at a maximum.

The visual metaphor for one’s range of interest is probably pockets of air in a volume of bubbles. Foam. Not all of our interests have equal attention paid to them. They don’t all last for the same duration. The adjacency still applies; anything non-adjacent to the “self” bubble is out of range. In a volume of foam, whichever bubble represents the self (and self-interest) is surrounded not only on one plane but above and/or below as well.

Bubble theory

Funny story… Guess what the universe looks like at the grandest scale presently possible.


It’s a bit of a foam. I’m not saying anything. I’m thinking a lot, though.

The other handy think “bubble affinity theory” provides is the idea that if bubbles could overlap instead of mutually building walls they would form lenses. Almost a year ago I was struck by the notion that we see each other through a lens defined by our respective sense of self.

We should expect this to evolve as well.


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