to watch a sunset and not dream."
Sunset over Tulsa Mosque
November 7, 2014
"All that we see or seem
is but a dream within a dream."
Edgar Allan Poe
These dreamy sunset thoughts bring to mind an essay that I taught years ago, entitled "Language and Thought," by Susanne K. Langer. Langer distinguishes between symbol and sign, and identifies dreaming as "a basic function of human brains," drawing the conclusion that what sets humans apart as a species is our inexhaustible, involuntary dreamscape. An intriguing concept!
As highly intelligent animals, we can scan the sky for signs. For example, the color of the sunset may foretell the coming weather or a turning point in the year. As a signifier of "presence . . . being, condition," a vividly colored or pastel sky can be useful, even beautiful. But we want the sunset to mean something more "glorious" than that! We want not merely the object at hand but the "kaleidoscope of ideas" and the "stream of thought" that the symbol brings to mind:
"We want to go places and do things, own all sorts of gadgets that we do not absolutely need, and when we sit down to take it easy we want to talk. Rights and property, social position, special talents and virtues, and above all our ideas, are what we live for. We have gone off on a tangent that takes us far away from the mere biological cycle that animal generations accomplish; and that is because we can use not only signs but symbols. . . . The difference between a sign and a symbol is, in brief, that a sign causes us to think or act in the face of the thing signified, whereas a symbol causes us to think about the thing symbolized. Therein lies the great importance of symbolism for human life, its power to make this life so different . . .
"The process of transforming all direct experience into imagery . . . has so completely taken possession of the human mind that it is not only a special talent but a dominant, organic need. All our sense impressions leave their traces in our memory not only as signs . . . but also as symbols, images representing our ideas of things . . . It seems to be what our brain most naturally and spontaneously does. Therefore our primitive mental function is not judging reality, but dreaming our desires." [from paragraphs 5, 7, 8]
Isn't that what these sunsets symbolize?
"I just never get tired of these sunsets -- feeling thankful!"
October 23, 2014
Also by Nancy: Late Summer Sunset & Groundhog Fog
Thanks to Sara Carriker & Victoria Amador for the dreamy quotations!