The snake

I didn’t know where to put this. Mods, please find a new home for it, if it needs to be moved. It isn’t creative writing; it’s a dream narrative. I’ve given it to you all because I think it can mean something to a lot of you. I’m hoping you all find something; but, if you don’t, that’s okay. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Once upon a time…
“Stop! Are you going to tell us a fairy tale?”
“Uh—not really.”
“Then what’s with the fairy tale opening? Come up with something else!”
“Well, okay. How about ‘There once was a girl …”
“Ah! A limerick!”
“Not exactly.”
“Then what? Can’t you come up with a good opening line?”
“How about this…”
DADDY! Daddy! Come see what I’ve found in the front yard.
Down the stairs and out to the front yard where neighbor children had gathered around some sort of structure. It rose from the ground and was, at first glance, somewhat frightening. It looked like a hollow, articulated, tube that grew larger as it struggled out of the earth. It was broken in what I thought was a mid-section; one end was still buried while the other ended in a gaping cave that somehow resembled a mouth. The ‘cave’ was about three feet off the ground and, although it was opaque, there was a glow on the inside that made things visible.
My daughter started to reach toward the mouth. “Wait!,” I cried. “Let me try to figure out what it is before we go any further.”
“I think I know what it is,” piped a small voice. “It’s the skin of a snake.” Looking down, I recognized the kid from two houses down on the other side of the street. “Well,” I said, “It certainly looks like that, but what kind a snake would be so big? And why does it live underground?”
“It’s a rock-eating snake,” the boy said, as if I should have known the answer. “It’s big, but it’s harmless to anything living. Look over there.” I looked. There was a similar structure in our neighbor’s front yard—only bigger. It looked as if the snake, if that’s what it was, had sloughed it’s skin and moved on into the new construction going on next door. It had apparently found enough rock there to grow out of its new skin, before plunging back down into the earth. I started over into the yard to see whatever I could see that might help to identify it.
“Daddy, my shoes pinch.” My daughter had grown during the Spring. “And look here!” She was pointing to the break in the…thing. I looked. There were baby animals—a ‘possum’, a raccoon, and another furry one I couldn’t identify. Looking farther up the break, I saw a white bird, feathers fluffed, sleeping in the hollow of one of the rings.
“My shoes really pinch, Daddy. And I don’t think I can do a back flip any more.”
“I’ll talk to Mommy,” I replied, “about taking you shopping. You need new shoes and underwear—and maybe some new jeans and shirts.” She seemed satisfied with my reply and did a back flip.
In the meantime, our new neighbor came out of his house. “What’s going on here? What are you doing on my property?”
I showed him the thing that had appeared in both our yards. He wasn’t particularly interested. “Oh, that,” he said. “I’ve seen them before. That’s the skin of a rock-eating snake. They’re harmless and they leave good soil. I’m glad it’s here.”
“Daddy, my shoes are too big!”
I looked. Her new shoes looked like clown shoes on her little feet. I laughed and hugged her. “Don’t worry, my little one, you’ll grow into them.”
As I walked to the house, I looked back at her. She was playing with a baby snake and rubbing the dirt it had made for her into her new shoes.



This is very interesting, Liz. You called it a “dream narrative”. What does that mean?

I dreamt it. In the midst of its chaos, I learned some things.

The dream was actually much longer and included building a new home, trailing the rock snake by following its skin, watching the baby animals–other things. But I felt this snippet had enough symbolism–that could be thought of as universal–to make a possible impression on other people, and, perhaps, get them to think about themselves as it got me to think about myself.

My dream is my dream. Everyone has their own and only the dreamer can ‘interpret’ what s/he dreams to her/his own satisfaction. But, sometimes, someone can have a dream in which the symbolism may be understood in many different ways, depending on how other people read it and what’s in their minds. ‘It’ doesn’t have to be a dream. ‘It’ can be poetry, music, painting, architecture, lasting literature. It’s all one and the same–an expression of a ‘self.’

My narrative was written in haste and is probably poorly crafted; but it is, for the most part, as I remember having dreamt it. It taught me. So I gave it to y’all as my Christmas gift–and as a part of me.

Yet you tell it from the point of view of the father. Is this you putting a creative spin on it?

You could make this thread into your own dream diary–spell out the full dream in installments.

And how do you interpret your dream?

I had to give a perspective. When someone dreams, they often don’t see the dream scape through their own eyes; they see a dream as a participant/ viewer. In my dream, the participant/viewer changed roles–sometimes it was Daddy and sometimes Mommy. To switch roles like that would have been distracting. If that’s a “creative spin,” so be it.

Perhaps I have a dream diary. I doubt anyone other than my husband and me would be interested in reading it, however.

My interpretation is mine and only relevant to me. That isn’t the point of my narration. I wrote it to see if other people could find anything in it for themselves. Are the symbols truly universal? The snake, for example, isn’t important in itself. The snake skin is, along with the idea that the snake is a rock-eating snake.

What I think is important to philosophy is how philosophers use symbols to sort and disseminate their thoughts. Their words are nothing other than symbols; their images are nothing other than symbols made up of words. The receiver–the reader or listener–interprets those symbols for her/himself, according to her/his individual mind. The same is true of dreams.

What’s the function of dreams? Why do we dream? Is art a by-product of dreams?

I believe dreams are both instructive and cathartic. I believe our minds produce dream images to give us new ways of understanding our ‘worlds.’ They come to us when our minds can focus on the emotionally important–uncluttered and unfettered by the mundane worlds of our ‘awake’ hours. These are some of the questions I’m asking.

Perhaps my mind is too broad; perhaps I ‘see’ too much; perhaps no one here sees anything the way I see. That’s okay.

I am who I am (said Popeye, the sailor man) and I change, just as the rock-eating snake changes.


Change is definitely a theme I see in this dream. Specifically, there seems to be a theme of changing from childhood to adulthood–the switch between child and mommy/daddy, the baby snake against the enormous adult snake (or what was left of the adult snake), the shoes the child will grow into… The skin perhaps represents a transition from an old way of life to a new one, perhaps death.

The rocks and the dirt don’t speak to me–I have no clue what they could mean.

And btw, I’m always interested in people’s dreams, so don’t sell yourself short.

Perhaps I feel I’m way too expensive, gib. I don’t know.

When we dream, we’re everyone in the dream–everyone according to our memory. How could dreams be anything else? What else can we have but what’s in our own minds?

And aren’t we all growing and changing? Don’t we do that if we want to live? Shouldn’t life progress? Shouldn’t we be able to throw away the things that are phony–non-productive–childlike, if you will? Or should we all stagnate in the morass of thinking as we’ve always thought?

I think a lot of us do–myself included–until something changes. What’s changed can come in many forms; but we need to recognize change and embrace it–no matter how much that might hurt.

The rocks are the seemingly unchangeable “facts of life”. The dirt is the disassociated details and tidbits of what the rocks were made; “Earth”, “common understandings”. Serpents divide and dissolve the stones into a chaos of disassociated thoughts. The dirt upon your shoes is your newly accepted “under-standing” made of the disassociated factoids left over from the truisms of old stones.

“Remove thy sandals [understanding] before the Almighty.”
“Let me wash [remove the dirt from] your feet, else…”

Very insightful James.

That’s interesting–something I haven’t thought of. Are the rocks the ‘facts’ of life that can only change into small, disassociated, bits of knowledge?

Do we, then, sift through those bits, like a miner panning for gold, to choose–once again–those nuggets we want to keep and those we want to discard? Or do we continue to carry all the detritus with us?

Can we ever be totally rid of what we’ve been given as “true” concepts?

As an aside, I’ve been thinking about what it would have been like to have lived before language–to have knowledge of only two very basic concepts–pain and fear, with fear being the most basic. Try it sometime. Is there an antithesis to fear or pain other than the lack of fear or pain?

I once made a chart of the human emotions, mapping out the basic ones and the derivative ones, and their opposites. I said that the opposite of fear was excitement. Surely, you must know there is pleasure and happiness in life, which aren’t just the absence of fear and pain–or are you asking if there’s any antithesis on the same basic level as fear and pain?

Moved to Psychology and Mind, perhaps people here will find more to say?

Shadow topic left in Phil. :slight_smile:

gib wrote:

Yes, gib, that’s what I’m asking. I don’t think there is, which is why I ask.

In the meantime, I’m not sure I agree with having this moved to Psychology and Mind. While some of what I wrote belongs in this category, I think it’s basically philosophic. I appreciate O_H’s possible concern–that this isn’t being given a lot of thought. And, yet, isn’t Philosophy the product of thought? “Here is what I think is important in how one lives” or however you want to word the statement. Can I develop a philosophy based on what I think I’ve learned in my dream? I don’t know if it would be a complete philosophy–if there is such a thing–but I think I have bits and pieces which I’m trying to draw together into a whole.

Let me try: James called the snake “the serpent.” This is very religious and usually connotes something evil and duplicitous. My dream snake isn’t a serpent–he’s a good guy. He eats rocks and excretes loam–fertile ground that supports life. The brain does that, doesn’t it?

But the human brain–all brains, in fact–carries with it the remnants of everything known, or experienced, that has gone before within the species. There really isn’t ‘hard wiring’ so much as there is innateness.

My philosophy, then, would say “Recognize and utilize what’s gone before. It’ll always be with you. It cannot be changed. Go farther than what you may understand today and strip away the unessential–the things that are the thoughts of today as they’ve been presented to you.”

If you can do this with your own self-honesty, it won’t matter what established, published, oft-read and quoted, Philosophers have said.

You are the center of your universe. How you create your universe depends entirely on you. You are your own philosopher. How you live is your own philosophy.

:slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

That’s hard to say. It depends on what’s meant by a “basic level.” I don’t think it means anything if we’re talking about the fully developed adult human brain as it is–the fully developed adult human brain has the whole gamut of emotions: anger, love, fear, depression, joy, etc. I can’t think of any objective sense in which we can say some of these are more “basic” than others.

But then we can talk about how the brain develops–is fear the first emotion that children experience? But if so, then it comes with relief. If a child can fear something, he can experience relief when that something goes away–or do you think the child feels nothing when the fear goes away?

Then we could talk about evolution–in which case, we’d have to go back far beyond the first human being–we’d have to go back to the first nematode that slithered out of the ocean, any simple creature capable of experiencing something, anything. I can imagine single celled organisms (and I think these actually exist) that react to stimuli in their environment by evasive action–they propel themselves away from the source of the stimulus. Is avoidance behavior the same as fear? Would approach behavior count as lust? But then who’s to say which evolved first? And was one built on top of the other, or could we say they evolved independently of each other regardless of which came first? And which one did we evolve from? And supposing the first strategy was avoidance behavior (fear) and all of life evolved from that. Did it have to happen that way? Or could we say there is another possible world in which approach behavior came first and all of life, including the eventuality of intelligent creatures like us, evolved from that?

Are you able to answer your own questions, gib?

Is the most primal emotion fear or not? Are stimuli that might cause harm to an organism avoided and, if so, why? (Does an organism avoid certain stimuli out of pleasure?) What one ‘emotion’ is present in every form of life leading up to human life? (Perhaps I shouldn’t call it ‘emotion’, but I can’t think of any other word. Can you?)

Does avoidance bring respite? Do all organisms avoid fear in the same way? More importantly, is the cause of fear the same for all organisms? I mean, some organisms avoid heat while others thrive on heat.

But are we to be concerned, now, with organisms that didn’t contribute to the line of creatures that led to the development of the human brain–the mammalian brain, if you will? If so, you’re going beyond my knowledge, because there are many.

To answer one of your relevant questions: I think mammalian babies feel almost overwhelming fear as they are born. But it’s almost immediately submerged as they meet the new circumstances with which they’re faced. No mammal emerges from the womb fully developed in thought and/or mental abilities, not to mention the physical development they still face. Mammalian young retain enough fear to enable them to survive. If they cannot survive and/or adapt to their new environment, the species will ultimately go extinct, won’t it? And isn’t survival an imperative?

no. :smiley:

This is a very good point, and I think it offers another answer to your question from a unique angle. I’ve often wondered what it means that most of us enter the world screaming and wailing. If you could picture an adult in a situation that compels them to scream and wailing like that, what would you imagine? I’d imagine overwhelming fear and pain, an incredibly traumatizing experience. That’s not to say it’s entirely fair to compare newborn infants to adults with respect to their threshold for crying. I think adults can tolerate a lot before they shed a single tear whereas infants cry at only the mildest discomfort. But still, I can’t imagine, after nine months of warm gentle comfort, being scrunched up and pushed through a canal barely big enough to fit you and being ejected into a cold and chaotic environment bombarding you with stimulus overload as anything less than traumatic. And then I get to wondering if we need this kind of experience at birth in order to develop normally. Have studies been done comparing subjects born in different manners–C-section for example, or premature birth (in which I imagine the process being a bit easier due to the smaller size)–studies that show a correlation between birth method and psychological development? If we could be born without the slightest bit of pain, fear, or discomfort, would that be better for our development or worse? Or would it make a difference at all? ← there you go, more unanswered questions :smiley:

I don’t know if any such studies have been made, gib. It’s accepted that human fetuses are aware of their surrounding as, I feel, are other mammalian fetuses. Human fetuses react to stimuli in the same way as other organisms do. But awareness isn’t consciousness.

To me, that means that, no matter what the manner of birth is, it’s a sudden change in the fetal surroundings. Is birth painful to the fetus? I don’t know. Is it traumatic? I think so.

But it’s a trauma that’s almost immediately submerged, as the infant starts to adjust its awareness to its new surroundings and as its senses and consciousness develop. The infant simply doesn’t have the time to ‘remember’ its birth process; it’s too busy learning. It’s ‘instinct’, if you will–just as many other things/feelings are instinctive. They have been learned over and over again through our genetic history all the way back to the single celled organisms that led, eventually, to Homo sapian. And I believe the most primal is fear.

If you agree, even partly, does it give you another insight into feelings in general? This was the reason for me to repeat my dream here. Does it mean anything to anyone else as they are–not as how they might interpret me?

James started to do this, but then he stopped posting. Perhaps he didn’t want to go any deeper or perhaps he thought it was just a silly exercise that would go nowhere in the general scheme of things. I don’t know. :slight_smile:

I think overall I agree. Fear does seem pretty primal. What it tells me is that we are constantly driven to avoid and attenuate danger. This doesn’t mean we’re constantly in a state of alarm, shaking and trembling over what misfortunes might befall us–we can be happy you know :wink:–but that our goals or always geared towards avoiding the negative.

Well, I shouldn’t say always–I think this is where spirituality comes in. For me spirituality has always been the escape from this primal mode of living. Spirituality (again, for me personally) has always been the way by which I switch from avoiding the bad and toward seeking the good–from fear to inspiration. If this primal fear defines our humanity, then this is why spirituality symbolizes the transcending of our humanity.

PS - I’m having trouble tying this back into your dream. You might need to help me.