May 09, 2007

Dream Journal: Homunculus

Millions of sperm cells are floating on the ocean, but they don’t look like the sperm cells we see through the microscope, they look like homunculi, tiny people. As with all creatures who reproduce in large masses, most will die before reaching maturity. Among them I find one who, to my amazement, speaks: “Help me!” He can’t move: the ocean has become a sticky seminal semisolid. I am overwhelmed with grief for him; I know I can’t help him, he is doomed.

All I can think of is to offer him food, but this distresses him, he can’t eat and has no use for food. (In the dream, these cells have no insides, they are just membranes filled with water, like jellyfish.) There is no solution.

In reality an early theory of sperm cells saw them as homunculi. Shortly before going to sleep I read about this in a story, “Seventy-Two Letters,” by the great young science fiction writer Ted Chiang.

A few hours before dreaming this, my kids and I attended a lecture about giant leatherback sea turtles, which lay many eggs, produce hatchlings who often die soon after birth, and feed on jellyfish.