On the long and not-so-distinguished list of things that we do even though we know we shouldn’t, daydreaming is bound to be in the top ten. Daydreams, also known as longings, fantasies, or delusions (depending on the subject matter), serve as a way of withdrawing from the world around us. We daydream because we’re uncomfortable, or because we’re bored, or because we think that the person sitting in the next row in math class is attractive enough to merit additional mental attention.
Unfortunately, daydreaming also has the effect of making a person inattentive, distracted, or even drowsy in situations in which doing so would be imprudent. Examples include sitting in literature recitation, attending a speech, or operating heavy machinery. Daydreaming at a speech can be especially dangerous scenario, since someone in your audience is bound to notice when your eyes glaze over. So why do we do it anyway? The same reason we watch mindless action films and eat cupcakes with tasty frosting — because it feels good, and because we can readily accuse anyone who criticizes us of hypocrisy. The same universality of daydreaming that permits this, however, inevitably begs a variety of questions regarding its nature.
What do we, as a populace, daydream about? Riding right past the obvious hormonal answer, I suppose “free time” and “not being in class” are high among our fit-to-print priorities. Personally, I’d also put money on “a decent new Star Wars movie” and “superpowers.” The daydreams undoubtedly vary from person to person, in spite of a few universal desires (like a nice mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich).
Is daydreaming conscious? Do we decide to daydream, or do we simply drift away into the ether? Perhaps it’s a combination of both? Do we choose the time, location, and subject, or does the daydream arise from the twilight of awareness between sleeping and waking? I know I’ve deliberately sat down and tuned out to life just to reminisce on life, but is that the norm? The trouble here is that by the time I realize that I’ve unconsciously removed myself from reality, I’m unconscious. Is it even possible to think about counting daydreams without having it affect when and where one daydreams? (Heisenberg is rolling in his grave. How fast and where, nobody knows.)
Do daydreams impact our perception of the world around us? Well, have you ever, when no one was looking, tried to use the Force to grab a soda from the fridge? Put on a compass ring and recited the Green Lantern Oath to see if it would charge with mystical power? Yes, I would say that daydreams almost certainly influence the way we behave in the real world. After all, what would life be without occasionally trying out the absurd? Taking a swan dive in the lounge every day between now and graduation will be entirely worth it on that day that I find that yes, my latent capacity for non-powered human flight has finally manifested. (I do, however, draw a line at checking for limb regeneration.)
Maybe I’m overthinking the daydream phenomenon. Maybe daydreams are nothing more than the product of a teenage attention span that, sure as the turning of worlds, meanders from one idea to another regardless of realism, like a mental art film. Either way, I suppose it’s self-defeating to ponder too hard about daydreaming. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go visualize not failing my classes. Whether it’s a longing or a delusion, we’ll have to see.