Disjunctive Cognition

Text by Rebecca Szkutak
Photo by Yasmina Hilal

Pulling down the driveway, I look out the side of my dune buggy and I see my Uncle’s house nestled on the Maine coast.

The house is taller than I remember and the landscaping is entirely different. Although I made this immediate, instinctive connection, I notice that actually nothing about the house looks like the home I remember. 

I shrug, knowing it’s my uncle’s house and head inside. 

I’m talking to people as if everything is entirely normal. All of their names are familiar on my tongue, but their faces are foreign to my eyes.  I treat them all as my close friends and family although they all look like complete strangers. 

Then I finally wake up and this dream begins to fade out of my memory. 

This phenomenon is known as disjunctive cognition, or when two lines of thought don’t match up with each other, according to psychologist Mark Blechner. This theory describes how in a dream state you recognize people from your personal life even though you are looking at a complete stranger.

Although this theory is meant to apply only to those who are asleep, I find this happening to me on a regular basis.

I can recall numerous times where I wanted to answer yes, and I kept thinking about how I was going to say yes and yet, I hear myself say no. As if it was an instinct. As if the Broca’s area of my brain was not even listening to what I had been thinking. I’m completely aware that what I just said was not at all what I had been thinking, but my answer never changes.

In dreams it comes off as blissful ignorance, living in a world where your thoughts are not connecting and you're ok with that, but in real life it can be debilitating. 

“Do you want to go to the Cosmic Jungle?,” my roommate Reed asks me. As he goes on to tell me about how fun the party will be and how it’s Ebrima’s birthday and he will be there too. I find myself getting increasingly excited, but then I hear myself saying the opposite.”It’s getting late and I’m just going to go to bed.” 

Then I headed off to return to unfamiliar places with unknown people, but in dreams I find it to be a source of comfort. 

But when I’m awake, I’ll wait here for my thoughts to align themselves.