Dreamed autumn 1895 and August 1898 by Mark Twain, and 2002/6/27 by Robert Moss
On a lecture tour in Sydney, Australia, Mark Twain had a big dream. "I dreamed that the visible universe is the physical person of God; that the vast worlds that we see twinkling millions of miles apart in the fields of space are the blood corpuscles in His veins; and that we and the other creatures are the microbes that charge with multitudinous life the corpuscles."
This theme plays back and forth between his dream life and his most original creative writing. In his later years, Mark Twain wrote of journeys into nanoworlds, such as a world inside a stone, or a society of microbes inside a human cell. These efforts to imagine and depict worlds inside very small things, though not widely known today, make exciting reading in the age of nanotechnology, when superstring theory suggests there may be six (or seven) dimensions of the physical universe hidden within the particles of an atom, and quantum physics speculates that, if we can enter that space, we can choose events that will manifest from the soup of possibilities.
In August 1898, Mark Twain noted a dream that gave him the idea for one of his most intriguing later stories. "Last night dreamed of a whaling cruise in a drop of water. Not by microscope but actually." In The Great Dark he creates a world inside a drop of water on a glass slide under a microscope. The traveler gets inside it, with an appropriate ship and crew, with the aid of a person identified as the Superintendent of Dreams, who appears by his side while he is musing on a sofa. Once inside the waterworld, it becomes hard to know whether it is this world or the one with the sofa that is real; the traveler's shipmates know no other reality than the ship and the sea. Mark Twain is playing with a favorite theme, Which is the dream?: the world we inhabit when we think we are awake, or the one we know when we think we are dreaming? He wanted to carry his theme further. In a note on further development of this story, Mark Twain reported that the Superintendent of Dreams was not satisfied with his title: he "says his proper title is S[uperintendent] of R[ealities] and he is so-called in the other planets, but here we reverse the meanings of many words, and we wouldn't understand him."
In Three Thousand Years among the Microbes, Mark Twain goes smaller and handles the transition from human scale to microscale very briskly and effectively: "The magician's experiment miscarried ... and the result was that he transformed me into a cholera-germ when he was trying to turn me into a bird." The foundation of the story is the author's visionary experience. When Mark Twain crossed out his own name and substituted the name of his most popular character, Huck, he laid the thinnest conceivable veil over what we can read as visionary autobiography enhanced by the writer's vivid imagination.
As a germ, Huck is inside a universe where everything is alive and conscious. "Nothing is ever at rest... There are no vegetables; all things are ANIMAL; each electron is an animal, each molecule is an animal, and each has an appointed duty to perform and a soul to be saved. A week of human time is a thousand microbe years, more or less. The man-become-germ makes his adjustments--including his aesthetics--learns the local languages, and mixes comfortably in microbe society. This is a universe with commerce and political intrigues and fashions and games and science--all of which gives the author a glorious opportunity to spoof the foibles of his own society while taking us somewhere deeper.
Mark Twain shocks us by representing the germs of illness as the nobility among the microbes. The cancer cells are the very "brightest" among them; the consumption agent the most poetic. Each "noble" family has a crest that resembles the way each germ looks--to a human eye under a microscope. Medical technology developed since Mark Twain's time suggests that this may have been more than literary invention; he may have intuited, or actually seen, what goes on among the cells of a body challenged by cancer. An oncology nurse with whom I shared his account, made the interesting comment that cancer cells "glow" in an x-ray and are sometimes called, in hospital slang, "stars."
Sometimes our hero dreams he is back in the human world, and he wakes with the inevitable question: Which is the dream? A moment of epiphany comes when Huck decides to confide to a circle of microbe intellectuals that he comes from another world, a planet beyond the body of the drunken tramp they are all living in. They simply cannot comprehend him. They can't understand, to begin with, that they are inside the body of a larger being, and that their behavior could affect that body's health for good or ill. So how can they grasp the idea that there are similar worlds in which beings walk and eat on a planet inconceivably vast? So of course the best brains of, the microbe world dismiss Huck as delusional, or at best, applaud him for his vivid and complex imagination.
Which leads our narrator to observe, "It isn't safe to sit in judgment upon another person's illusion when you are not on the inside. While you are thinking it is a dream, he may be knowing it is a planet." Mark Twain proceeds to show us microbe scientists studying the nanomicrobes who live inside their bodies. He pushes the point--hard but brilliantly--that in relation to the larger universe, we humans reading him may be of the order of microbes too, and yet may be able to affect the state of everything.
I discovered Three Thousand Years among the Microbes at the end of December 2005. Leafing through one of my old journals shortly afterward, I was excited to discover that I had apparently received Mark Twain's invitation to explore the worlds within very small objects nearly four years earlier. Here's the dream, just as I recorded it in my journal:
Worldstones [June 27, 2002]That's the mark of a world-class dreamer: that he can extend an invitation to join him in a tramp through the Dreamlands--in a dream. Mark Twain worked with dreams, coincidence, and imagination through the best years of his immensely creative and productive life, and lived deeper and deeper in their play as he matured. He also understood the importance of nurturing and following a life dream: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
I am training people to journey into very small objects, especially stones. Some of these are Worldstones; you find a whole world within them. Some contain universes generated by books. I enjoy my adventures inside a stone that contains the world of Huck Finn.
Source: The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss, p. 206-209.
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